Pie maker aims to create hundreds of jobs

By John Wood

- Last updated on GMT

Neil Court-Johnston, chief executive of Pooles Pies, plans to create hundreds of jobs and grow turnover to £100M
Neil Court-Johnston, chief executive of Pooles Pies, plans to create hundreds of jobs and grow turnover to £100M
A Wigan food manufacturer is aiming to create hundreds of jobs and grow turnover to £100M from an almost standing start.

Neil Court-Johnston, chief executive of Pooles Pies, revealed his growth plans as he announced the first national listing for the company’s pies featuring the company’s brand name.

It has secured a deal for five of its frozen pie lines to be stocked by the more than 500 Asda stores across the UK, together with five own-label savoury pastry lines.

Court-Johnston said that little over a year ago the company’s turnover fell close to zero after its contract with its main customer Morrisons was cancelled.

Winning own-label supply deals

However, after winning several own-label supply deals with major retailers such as Tesco and Iceland, and with the new Asda deal, turnover was now at around £12M on an annualised basis.

Court-Johnson said one of the main reasons for the success of the business was the modern manufacturing plant that was installed at the company shortly before the sale by its former owner Dave Whelan.

He said Whelan had invested millions of pounds in the site because of his commitment to the workforce in Wigan and his wish to give the company the best opportunity to thrive.

“We have two state-of–the-art facilities side-by-side on the site and they have a combined capacity for a turnover of £100M, and a workforce of hundreds,”​ he said.

76 full-time staff

The company currently employs 76 full-time staff after growing from 47 a year ago, and Court-Johnson said jobs were sorely needed in Wigan, particularly with the closure of the Rathbones bakery in the centre of the town with the loss of 160 jobs.

One of the facilities on the Poole’s site is being used to manufacture the company’s frozen products, which include desserts as well as its pies, while the second is equipped to produce chilled products.

Court-Johnson said the company would not be commissioning its chilled plant until next year as management initially wanted to focus on developing the frozen business.

However, he said it would begin production next year and he predicted that it would be able to manufacture products at half the price its competitors were charging because of its level of automation.

The new listing with Asda, which starts in May, features five of the company’s pies and Jumbo Sausage Rolls, none of which have been sold outside the North West before.

The pie varieties, which are packed four in a box and priced £2.50, are: chunky steak; chicken & mushroom; steak & kidney; meat & potato; and mince & onion.

The Jumbo Sausage Rolls are eight inches long, packed in pairs, and retail for £1.

The products have also been given new gold and black packaging which Court-Johnson said would enable them to stand-out in a category where most packaging is relatively dull.

Meanwhile, Court-Johnson gave the Poole Pies workforce the weekend off to help cheer local team Wigan Athletic to a jack-the-giant-killer victory over Manchester City in the FA cup final on Saturday (May 11).

“This has been a huge boost for Wigan; the atmosphere has been electric,”​ said Court-Johnson.

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