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Charlie Bigham (Return to top)
Founder, Charlie Bigham’s
Charlie Bigham has regularly invested in his ‘posh’ ready meal business to help grow sales and drive innovation in the sector. His business model is as simple as it is effective: to constantly improve the quality of his products, increase efficiencies and to build the best workforce in the sector to grow his business.
“If you focus on the right things and make progress in those areas then the rest will follow,” he says. “Our brand will grow; our team will grow; we’ll do better as a business and our sales will grow.”
Retail sales have grown by 30% year-on-year to £20M and Bigham’s also sold its one millionth fish pie this year. The company announced plans to invest £2.5M in production equipment in February to carry forward its business strategy.
The business also invested £120,000 in a new advertising campaign. The national outdoor campaign included roadside and tube adverts at 190 locations across the UK. As well as the more traditional marketing campaigns, Bigham is constantly looking at new and wacky ways to get the message out about the brand.
To celebrate Valentine’s Day, the firm launched a singling lasagne that helped triple its sales at Waitrose. It also made the world’s most expensive ready meal – a £314 fish pie made from lobster, oysters, caviar, Dom Perignon and gold leaf.
Patrick Coveney (Return to top)
Chief executive, Greencore
Greencore boss Patrick Coveney has demonstrated considerable skill in raising the fortunes of the convenience food manufacturer he leads over the past few years. While the strong rise in Greencore's share price, which peaked at 300p on March 7, has started to slide over the past few months (247p on May 19), the fundamentals of the business remain strong. Coveney can take much of the credit for that.
He navigated a change in the strategy within Greencore’s US business from one predicated on traditional ready meals and salads to a ‘food-to-go’ business, which meets the needs of consumers Stateside. Coveney was also astute enough to recognise that what happens in the US is often picked up in the UK. He has thus made food-to-go a strong focus of Greencore's activities here too.
In its latest half-year results, Greencore reported particularly strong performance, with 18.6% earnings per share growth, due in no small part to the focus on food-to-go. Growth in the US continues apace, with strategic investments stepped up over the past six months in Minneapolis, Jacksonville, Rhode Island and Northampton to support new business.
Expect Greencore to report further growth in the months and years ahead.
Gavin Darby (Return to top)
Chief executive, Premier Foods
Gavin Darby replaced Michael Clarke as chief executive of Premier Foods on February 4, 2013, following the latter’s shock departure. Darby had big boots to fill. But he had a strong pedigree, having been chief executive of Cable & Wireless Worldwide and before that UK chief executive of Vodafone. He had also spent 15 years in senior posts within different divisions of the Coca-Cola Company.
Darby met the challenge and hasn’t avoided tough decisions. He acknowledged Premier had too many suppliers and announced plans to prune their numbers by up to 50%. By September, solid progress was being made and Premier’s power brands, including Ambrosia and Mr Kipling, had recorded six successive quarters of growth to mid-2013.
Darby also presided over some canny high-profile deals. In July 2013, a licensing agreement was struck for 2 Sisters Food Group to produce Premier Foods’s Hovis Breakfast Bakes biscuits to cut costs and improve customer service. Then, in January this year, Premier launched its partnership with US-based Gores Group to run its troubled Hovis bread and flour business.
But Darby’s main achievement was steering Premier through its landmark refinancing deal under tremendous pressure.
Chris Elliott (Return to top)
Professor of food safety, Institute for Global Food Security, Queen’s University, Belfast
Chris Elliott, professor of food safety and director of the Institute for Global Food Security at Queen’s University Belfast, has gained a high profile over the past year for his independent review into the integrity and assurance of food supply networks following last year's horsemeat fraud scandal.
Elliott’s interim report, published last December, was unanimously well received for putting consumer interests centre stage and highlighting the changes necessary to prevent similar events occurring in the future.
The recommendations contained in his report covered a number of areas and identified weaknesses of supply chain networks in the UK. Measures were proposed to deal with the weaknesses. He called for a food crime unit to be set up within the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and responsibility for food authenticity and labelling policy to be returned to the FSA. Elliott said that those involved with audit, inspection and enforcement should have access to resilient, sustainable laboratory services which used consistent testing methodologies.
For his proposals for mechanisms to restore consumer confidence in the UK’s food supply chain, Elliott is a worthy candidate for Food Manufacture Personality of the year.
Tse Sisters (Return to top)
Founders of Sweet Mandarin
Twin sisters Helen and Lisa Tse the brains behind the Chinese sauce brand Sweet Mandarin have shot to international prominence after winning £50,000 backing from the TV programme Dragons Den only two years ago. Helen, director of the business and Lisa, its chief executive and head chef, have signed a lucrative export deal to supply their Chinese sauces to China and each collected a Member of the British Empire award in this year’s New Year’s honours list.
Their rise to fame began when, in a bid to branch out from their Manchester restaurant, they persuaded the TV ‘dragons’ to back their gluten-free sauces early in 2012. The TV show proved their launch pad for their three monosodium glutamate free sauces.
In November 2012 they secured national listings for their Sweet Mandarin sauces in 500 Sainsbury stores across the UK, together with orders to supply Tesco and others. Last December they won business worth more than £6M over the next five years to supply sauce to China. This followed a trade mission with prime minister David Cameron to China.
The sisters believe the prospects for sauce exports are vast. Other developing export markets include Russia, Switzerland, and Germany.
Dr Andy Wood (Return to top)
Chief executive, Adnams
For Adnams boss Dr Andy Wood, diversification is the future for the 142 year-old business he’s headed for the past four years. Although the Southwold-based brewer makes around 30M pints of beer a year, contributing significantly to the company's £60M annual turnover, Wood has also opened a series of cafes and launched a new distilling arm, which produced its first whiskies at the end of last year.
For an investment just shy of £1M, Adnams is now the first UK brewer to distil spirits on the same premises as it brews beer. Adnams sold more than 500 bottles of its whisky in just 90 minutes of it going on sale.
While the company is pursuing new avenues, Wood is also pressing ahead with a £1.5M investment to expand the capacity of the Sole Bay Brewery in Southwold, where the company has been headquartered since 1872. He is optimistic that consumer interest in premium beers will drive the market forward.
Wood’s passion to develop a greener and leaner business is well known and is described in the book Creating a Lean and Green Business System, which he co-authored. His green credentials are also reflected in Adnams’ Suffolk- based green distribution centre, which has generated energy savings of £49,000 a year.