Premier didn’t realise Quorn’s potential, says ceo

By Ben Bouckley

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Quorn

Premier didn’t realise Quorn’s potential, says ceo
Under-investment was the reason why Quorn failed to realise its full potential under Premier Foods, the meat-free firm's ceo Kevin Brennan has told

Brennan was speaking late last week following Exponent Private Equity and Intermediate Capital Group’s purchase of Quorn (meat-free mycoprotein products) and Cauldron (tofu) from Premier for £205m in late January.

Asked to explain the common perception amongst analysts that Quorn (now Quorn Foods) failed to realise its full potential under Premier’s banner, with one saying in January that the firm should have been the “jewel in Premier’s crown”,​ Brennan said:

“Under Premier’s ownership nowhere near all the potential of Quorn was realised, but Premier bought RHM ​[in March 2007] and that business became the priority, while its debt and balance sheet issues – which are well known – made it hard to invest.”

Fixing production bottlenecks

Conversely, said Brennan, Exponent Private Equity bought Quorn as an “investment and growth business, not to simply slash costs”​, and has already implemented ambitious capital expenditure plans.

“These include ensuring our main sites operate more effectively, fixing production bottlenecks and getting sites set up to deal with increased demand. We need a manufacturing base that can cope with international growth,” ​he said.

Exponent wants to build Quorn “very prominent ​[UK branding] position”​ on a world stage, with Quorn already sold in 10 countries worldwide; Premier ceo Robert Schofield previously said that Quorn’s priority was the UK market alone.

CSPI criticisms dismissed

Brennan said: “We’re already a market leader in Australia where we launched last year ​[mid-2010] and a key focus for us is the US market where we’re looking to boost the business fourfold over the next five years.”

To do this Brennan said Quorn is investing heavily to secure listings and support products in US retail outlets; international expansion also meant potential investment in infrastructure and staff based overseas, he added.

He also brushed aside historic criticisms from US consumer advocacy group the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) which continues to argue that Quorn can cause allergic reactions.

“I think you’d struggle to find a food firm that the CSPI hasn’t caused problems for in the US,”​ Brennan said.

“Over the last seven years we’ve seen strong US growth, and double-digit growth already in 2011, so there’s no evidence that they ​[the CSPI] are causing us any problems.”

Patent expiry issue?

Asked whether the expiry of Quorn’s EU patents in 2010 – some of them were first filed in 1985 – would hurt the business, with rivals potentially stealing market share, Brennan said:

“Some patents surrounding the core technology have expired, but the product uses a peculiar fermentation method, and we have 30-plus years experience in perfecting this on site to produce the product better and at a lower costs.

“Huge related costs include £30m cost for a fermentation tower and related equipment, so you can’t simply look at a patent and say ‘there you go’.”

Strong advertising response

Brennan said Quorn’s ongoing £4m+ television marketing campaign during 2011, stressing the brand’s health credentials was also refreshing, given that under Premier’s tenure the firm was not in a position to advertise – with Quorn “particularly responsive”​ to this support, or invest much in NPD.

While business volumes fell by up to 7% year-on-year at times during 2010, he said, Quorn successfully extended its ready meal range in January and was already seeing 5-6% growth in the UK.

A Mintel spokeswoman said that after the 2009 brand revamp Quorn attempted to reach a "wider, mainstream audience"​; however, she said the the 2011 campaign was more focused, targeting ‘weight managers’ and the firm's traditional audience of vegetarians.

“The vegetarian market is growing, weight management is a concern, and heart disease and cholesterol issues are leading people to take meat out of diets. We’re well-placed to capitalise on this given our superior technology,”​ Brennan said.

The future is meat free?

Mintel's latest statistics show that the value of UK meat-free sales rose from £468m in 2005 to £549m in 2009 (where the category saw 5.9% yearly growth that year); however, the research firm estimated that 2010 would only see 0.3% growth to £553m.

Nonetheless, the spokeswoman said the future for meat-free products looked bright: "Going forward, the market looks set to benefit from the projected growth in ABs and 25-34-year-olds, both being keen users of meat-free foods. Against this background, Mintel expects the market to grow to a total of £673 million in 2015."

With a 2010 turnover of £128.8m (£16.1m operating profit), Quorn Foods employs around 595 employees across UK manufacturing sites in Stokesley, North Yorkshire (where Quorn is formed and packed) Belasis on Teesside (where it is fermented) and Methwold in Norfolk (where breading, frying and packing takes place).

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oh - and

Posted by muncher,

I wouldn't worry too much about patent expiry - the capex required to set up manufacturing of this product is huge and will keep many out of the running.

...also I doubt PF would have sold Quorn had it not had cash worries. Schofield was always a massive fan of the potential of the product. I suspect the sale was out of nessecity rather than choice

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Posted by Muncher,

Debatable. Quorn has been a 'jewel in the crown' with many large companies and no one has yet cracked it. I don't think you can accuse PF of lack of investment given the manufacturing and marketing spend - the effectiveness of that spend you could question.

PF failed to answer the fundemental quesion about Quorn - here is a miracle food that should be eaten as part of a balanced diet, it ticks all the boxes and is an excellent tool to weight loss.

The problem is how you sell it when "health foods" always have negative perceptions. The inability to answer this question has been hanging around for 20 odd years now and marketing minds better than mine have been unable to answer it.

It will be interesting to see if the VC can pull it off - it isn't a quesiton of money - it is how you spend it that counts.

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