Fitch Lovell

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Fitch Lovell was a British food manufacturing, transportation, distribution and retail company that started life in 1784, and was finally merged into Booker Group in 1991 after they had purchased it in 1990 for £279.7 million.[1]

Early history[edit]

Fitch Lovell started out in 1784, when James Fitch (1762–1818) opened a cheesemaking business in Leadenhall, London near to St Katherine Cree church,[2] which since 1965 has hosted the Fitch Gardens (paid for by Fitch Lovell).

During the 19th century Fitch & Son grew from being a cheesemaker to become a producer and provider of many food products, from cheese to bacon.[3] In 1839 it had premises in 66 Bishopgate, 83 Leadenhall and 98 Union Street, London,[4] while in 1846 it had further premises in 33 New Glocuester Street in Hoxton, 9 Coalville Terrace in Chelsea and 11 High Street, Newington Butts.[5] It held several Royal Warrants,[6] had expanded to provide livestock auctioning [7] and by 1878 was providing dairy products nationwide.[8]

Incorporation and expansion[edit]

The company was incorporated as Fitch & Son Ltd in 1908, the same year that one of the families most famous members was born, the philanthropist Marc Fitch. In 1909 a fraud case was brought involving Fitch & Son at the Old Bailey. A former member of staff, Frederick Crocker, who had been dismissed by Edwin & Stanley Finch for reputedly using company funds to do his own business deals, was found guilty of purchasing lard from the Morris Beef Company using Fitch & Son paperwork and selling the goods on.[6]

During the 1940s and 50s, the company grew further into different areas of the food industry. During the 1940s it purchased Hales Home Bakery (Cleveland) Ltd from its owner Frank Hales. This was followed up by purchasing Far Famed Cake Company in 1950 and the John Trent company, merging them to form Hales Trent Cakes in 1962. The company was sold in 1974 to J. Lyons and Co.[9]

It also expanded into the butchery market, first buying Keevil and Keevil, a Smithfields meat seller, before buying the Layton & Burkett group in 1950, and expanding the business by purchasing several other London butcher chains. By 1958 it had 49 shops, and had purchased the West Butchers chain. This was in turn merged with the Gunner chain to form West Gunner (incorporated 1 June 1962) and had 250 shops. Fitch Lovell eventually sold the business to Vestey Group (Dewhurst) for £4m in 1984, although the chain now only had 100 stores.

During the 1960s Fitch Lovell opened its own supermarket chain, Key Markets, as they saw this as the future of food retailing, opening many stores in the south and east of England. They expanded the business by buying up several rivals. In 1965 they bought Barrow Stores (based in Birmingham), which had been started by John Cadbury in 1824, and was merged into Keymarkets in 1966. In 1972, they purchased the David Greig chain.


During the 1970s the business expanded by purchasing Huttons & Co Ltd, a ship chandlers, food warehousing and transportation company,[10] and building more Keymarket stores. In 1975 Fitch Lovell purchased the pastry firm Jus-Rol.[11] The company expanded its product manufacturing by entering the burgeoning margarine market, in partnership with American firm Standard Brands.[12]

During the 1970s Keymarkets became the second UK supermarket to market their own fuel, after Sainsburys launched their own fuel product in 1974[citation needed]. Keymarkets were also the first store in the UK to have a barcode scanner, launching the system in their store in Spalding, Lincolnshire in 1977.[13] Unfortunately no UK food manufacturer used barcodes on their products at the time, so the staff had to add the labels to each product for it to work. It was during the 1970s that Fitch Lovell split their organisation into the retail and catering distribution business.[14]


In 1982 Linfood plc, later the Dee Corporation (Somerfield), made a takeover bid of £74 million for Fitch Lovell. The proposal was referred on 9 November 1982 to the Monopolies & Merger commission.[15] Eventually Linfood purchased the 98 Keymarket Stores in 1983 and merged them with their Gateway business.

With the finance raised from the sale of Keymarkets & the West Gunner butcher shops, Fitch Lovell purchased or created new business to grow its catering and production business. In 1985 it bought Jacksons of Piccadilly owners of the supposedly original recipe from 1830 for Earl Grey tea [16] and promptly sold them on to Twinings. In 1984 it set up Buckingham Foods as a sandwich manufacturer,[17] while in 1988 it purchased UYC, a food services company from Guniness. In 1985 it also purchased the frozen fish group Bluecrest. In 1989 it was reported that Fitch Lovell had increased profit by 21%.[18] Other Fitch Lovell business were Farmers Table Chicken (based in Witham, Essex), Blue Cap (contract distribution), Stocks Lovell (bacon supplier to supermarkets), Dixons (pork processing), Newforge Foods of Gateacre, Liverpool, who held the licence to produce SPAM in the UK as well as L Noels in Oswaldtwistle.

In the late 1980s Fitch Lovell moved into new headquarters at 83 Turnmill Street, London but when the company was sold to Booker plc in 1990, the building was sold to Corps of Commissionaires for £1.7 million.[19]

Booker plc purchased the company in 1990 for £308 million,[20] and completed the merger into its business by 1991. Several of the subsidiaries were sold off, including Miller-Robirch (Kerry Group) while several transportation depots were closed.


  1. ^ "History of Booker Cash & Carry". Retrieved 17 April 2015. 
  2. ^ "London gardens online". Retrieved 17 April 2015. 
  3. ^ connected British newspapers 1600-1900
  4. ^ Pigots Business Directory 1839
  5. ^ 1846 Post Office Directory
  6. ^ a b Old Bailey Proceedings Online (, version 7.2, 27 January 2018), January 1909, trial of BOWMAN, Frederick (45, baker) CROCKER, Frederick (42, cheesemonger) (t19090112-18).
  7. ^
  8. ^ 14 September 1878 Cockermouth Union - National Archives
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^ Berwick Advertiser 23 June 2004
  12. ^ A Study of Evolution Of Concentration of The Food Industry in The UK Volume 2 Commission of the European Communities
  13. ^
  14. ^ Interview with Peter Davis The Independent 26 March 1995
  15. ^ 9 November 1982 Hansard
  16. ^ Iagano, Margareta (3 July 1985). "The secret of Earl Grey tea is changing hands at last / Sale of Jacksons of Piccadilly to Fitch Lovell food manufacturing group". The Guardian (London). "The original secret formula for Earl Grey tea is changing hands after 155 years with its sole proprietors, the Jacksons of Piccadilly tea merchants... with the sale goes the special recipe of the Earl Grey blend which was entrusted to Robert Jackson's partner, George Charlton, in 1830 by the second Earl Grey. To this day the formula—which mixes black China tea with other unknown teas—has remained unaltered."
  17. ^
  18. ^ Herald Scotland 7 July 1989
  19. ^ 1987-91 ILHC cuttings L1.7:IBC City Recorder 26 September 1991
  20. ^