Northern Foods

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Northern Foods Ltd
Industry Food
Founded 1937 as Northern Dairies
Headquarters Leeds, West Yorkshire, England
Key people
Ranjit Singh Boparan
Revenue £975.2 million (2009)[1]
£52.7 million (2009)[1]
£2.5 million (2009)[1]
Number of employees
9,890 (2009)[1]
Parent Boparan Holdings
Subsidiaries Gunstones bakery, Solway Foods, Fox's Biscuits, Green Isle Foods, Hollands Pies, Pennine Foods, Matthew Walker

Northern Foods Ltd is a British food manufacturer headquartered in Leeds, England. It was formerly listed on the London Stock Exchange and was a constituent of the FTSE SmallCap Index. The company was scheduled to merge with Greencore Group in 2011 to form Essenta Foods, the group being headquartered in Dublin, and listed on the FTSE.[2][3] On 21 January 2011 Ranjit Singh Boparan announced a bid to buy Northern Foods,[4] which succeeded in gaining sufficient shareholder support to proceed, resulting in the appointment of Boparan as the company's chairman in April 2011.[5]


The business was founded by Alec Horsley in 1937 as a family-run dairy business based in Holme on Spalding Moor.[6] In 1942 the business was registered as Northern Dairies and became a public company in 1956.[6] In 1958, Alec's son Nicholas Horsley joined the then Northern Dairies as a trainee manager, becoming a director in 1963. His first great business success was to acquire, very cheaply, a stake in a small ice-cream company called Mr Whippy, which he sold on to Charles (now Lord) Forte for a very high price two years later.

It was only when his father retired, in 1969, that Nick came into his own as chairman. Three years later, under Nick's chairmanship, Northern Dairies changed its name to Northern Foods, and, within a few years, Nick had successfully diversified the business, widening Northern Foods' portfolio into Marks & Spencer cakes (through Park Cakes), Smith's Flour Milling, brewing (with the purchase of Hull Brewery), Fox's Biscuits, Pork Farms and many other smaller firms. It was during this period that the company pioneered the market in chilled, prepared meals and sandwiches in supermarkets.

Acquisitions continued in the 1980s, including that of Dorset Chilled Foods in 1981, Bowyers and Elkes Biscuits in 1985, Batchelors in 1986 and Evesham Foods in 1988.[6] In 1987 the company built the most advanced food factory in Europe, the Fenlands Food Factory in Grantham,[6] and dedicated it entirely to Marks & Spencer.

Nicholas Horsley took early retirement due to a rare genetic wasting disease, and in the late 80s handed over the reins to his brother-in-law Christopher Haskins.[7] In the 1990s Northern Foods acquired: Palethorpes in 1990; Park Cake Bakeries, Trafford Park Bakery, Kara Foods, Express Dairies and Eden Vale in 1991; Mathew Walker in 1992; Vanderheul in 1993; Green Isle Foods in 1995; Cavaghan & Grey and George Payne & Co. in 1998; and Pyewipe in 1999.[6]

In 2000 it acquired a 40% stake in Solway Foods (later increased to 100%) and R&K Wise and in 2002 it bought Lacemont and Fox's Confectionery.[6]

Buyer to seller[edit]

Most of the purchases were made by a common practise of the time, share leverage or exchange. But in the wake of crash, the company's growth slowed and cash reserves dwindled. As a result, in 2002 it started a programme of disposals, selling Vanderheul, Ski and Munch Bunch in 2002 to Nestle,[6] and Fox's Confectionery and Batchelors in 2003.[6]

Following the resignation of Chief Executive Jo Stewart in 2003,[8] the former Shell executive Pat O’Driscoll was appointed Chief Executive in March 2004.[6]

The company went further with its programme of disposals in 2004 selling Emile Tissot, Eden Vale and Cavaghan & Gray Seafood.[9]

In 2005 the corporate headquarters was moved to Leeds, while Evesham Foods and the London Road site of Cavaghan & Gray in Carlisle were both closed.[6]

In 2006 the company announced a further radical refocus of the business, targeting disposal of its chilled distribution(NFT), flour milling (Smiths), cakes (Park Cakes), speciality bread (Fletchers) and chilled pastry businesses (Pork Farms Bowyers) ;[10] it also closed its Green Isle Boyle site and its Trafford Park Bakery.[11] These businesses were sold to a private equity group, Vision Capital.[12]

Following the resignation of Pat O'Driscoll as Chief Executive in February 2007,[13] Stefan Barden was appointed to the post. In 2007 the company acquired Ethnic Cuisine, a ready meals business producing Chinese food and based in Swansea, Wales.[14] This business closed down in 2010 after losing the Sainsbury's contract which accounted for 90% of its production.[15]

In 2008 it bought the chilled soup facilities of Baxters Food Group[16] and closed the Fenland Foods factory in Grantham.[17]

In 2009 it proposed to establish a new "super" biscuit plant by combining the operations of its plants at Batley and Uttoxeter, at a new site. Discussions took place to decide the location of this.[18] Also in the same year Northern Foods announced it was planning to close its Hull factory which had formerly been part of Cavaghan & Gray.[19]

On 17 November 2010 the company announced it was merging with Irish ready-made meals supplier, Greencore. According to industry web site,, the company's shares rose more than 20% that day. The new company will be called Essenta.[20] The new company was to be chaired by Tony Hobson (Chair of Northern Foods & ex Non Exec at HBOS), Deputy Chair Ned Sullivan (Chair of Greencore & ex Non Exec at Allied Irish Bank) and the CEO was to be Patrick Coveney (current CEO of Greencore).

On 21 January 2011, Ranjit Singh Boparan of 2 Sisters Food Group announced a bid to buy Northern Foods,[4] which succeeded in gaining sufficient shareholder support to proceed. This resulted in the appointment of Boparan as the company's chairman in April 2011.[5] On 13 May 2011 the company was delisted from the London Stock Exchange.


The company's brands could be summarised as follows:[21]


Own branded production for customers[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Annual Report 2009
  2. ^ "Greencore, Northern Foods to merge". Irish Times. 17 November 2010. 
  3. ^ "Greencore and Northern Foods to merge". RTÉ. 17 November 2010. 
  4. ^ a b "Boparan wins Northern Foods with £341m bid". 
  5. ^ a b "Boparan becomes Northern Foods Chairman". 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "History". Northern Foods. Retrieved 5 October 2008. 
  7. ^ "Obituary: Nicholas Horsley". The Guardian. 23 January 2004. 
  8. ^ "Northern Foods boss quits". BBC News. 4 September 2003. Retrieved 28 April 2008. 
  9. ^ "End of era for historic food firm". BBC News. 24 March 2005. Retrieved 28 April 2008. 
  10. ^ "Northern Foods unveils sell-off". BBC News. 31 May 2006. Retrieved 28 April 2008. 
  11. ^ "Northern Foods to shed 900 jobs". BBC News. 24 August 2006. Retrieved 28 April 2008. 
  12. ^ "Vision Capital realigns Northern Food purchases". 26 January 2007. Retrieved 27 December 2010. 
  13. ^ Mesure, Susie (2 February 2007). "Northern Foods' chief executive exits". The Independent. London. Retrieved 28 April 2008. 
  14. ^ "Ready-made expansion for food firm". Western Mail. 23 November 2007. Retrieved 28 April 2008. 
  15. ^ "Swansea ready meals firm to close". BBC. 22 April 2010. Retrieved 22 April 2010. 
  16. ^ "Northern Foods to ramp up chilled foods production". Sharecast. 11 January 2008. Retrieved 5 October 2008. 
  17. ^ Hall, James (28 May 2008). "Closed M&S food plant sparks row". The Telegraph. London. Retrieved 5 October 2008. 
  18. ^ "Leeds-based Northern Foods makes no comment on Batley Fox's biscuit factory as it reports robust Christmas trading". The Yorkshire Evening Post. 13 January 2009. Retrieved 14 March 2009. 
  19. ^ Northern Foods to close Hull site BBC News, 27 May 2009
  20. ^ "In the spotlight - The Greencore, Northern Foods merger". Retrieved 17 November 2010. 
  21. ^ "Our products". Northern Foods. Retrieved 5 October 2008. 

External links[edit]