Court-Johnston’s purchase of the business from Wigan Athletic Football Club chairman Dave Whelan for £3M was announced last week. Court-Johnston told FoodManufacture.co.uk he had access to £2M of working capital to help run the business in the early stages of his ownership.
“I am running a company that doesn’t have a penny of bad debt,” he said. “This is a long–term project, it is a business I could see reach £80–£100M in sales over a five–to–10–year horizon.”
He added: “The pie industry brings around an annual £1bn to the UK economy, making it a major player – and the popularity of British cooking and ‘good wholesome’ food is rising steadily."
£2M deal with Iceland
The business, which has the capability to make savoury and sweet pies, crepes and pastries, has just clinched a £2M pie deal with discount frozen food chain Iceland on March 29, said Court-Johnston. “If I have a vision for the company, it is that frozen becomes the new chilled.” Frozen food means less waste for retailers and more convenience and value for consumers, he said.
He said he would explore all options for boosting the firm’s size. “I look forward to growing the business not just organically, but by selective acquisitions.”
He issued an invitation to Ranjit Boparan, now owner of Holland’s Pies, to sell the firm to him as soon as he was ready to divest it. “If and when Ranjit Boparan decides to sell Holland’s, I would be first in the queue and the only person committed to keeping jobs and production in the region.”
Court-Johnston said he had no plans to cut staff at Pooles and, instead, wanted to create jobs. “This is all about growth.” He said he was poaching managers from Holland’s to fill positions within Pooles. They included Maria Yuste, the new product development manager; Paul Lacy, technical manager and David Rawstron, production manager.
“It’s a very experienced and capable team that is coming across. We enjoyed working together at Holland’s.”
Whelan had invested £12.5M in Pooles, which operated a 23,226m2 plant in Wigan, in the past four years. Capacity at the plant is up to 25,000 pies and pastries an hour. But Whelan is now 75 and wants to take more of a back seat in the firm, said Court-Johnston.
He said he wanted to expand the customer base of Pooles, which was set up in 1847, to include foodservice as well as retailers such as the major supermarkets.
Pubs and chip shops also offered considerable opportunities, he added.
Court-Johnston joined Pooles from his role as director of Peter’s Food Service in South Wales.