Baxters stocks up with purchase of CCL Foods

BAXTERS, the Scottish food group, has acquired rival CCL Foods for an undisclosed sum in a deal that "significantly" expands its premium brands and own-label business and will see turnover reach £100 million within two years.

CCL, which was founded in 1986 as Cottage Cooking Limited, makes condiments and pickles for some of the UK’s leading brands, such as PizzaExpress, along with products for supermarket groups Tesco, Safeway and Waitrose.

The Colchester-based company, which employs 50 people, will operate as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Baxters Food Group but will retain its existing management team, led by founding husband and wife team James and Alison Horne.

Audrey Baxter, chief executive of the Fochabers-based food producer, said the deal heralds a major step in the company’s "ambitious" growth plans.

"The acquisition of CCL Foods forms part of the board’s strategy to acquire branded businesses, which have synergy with Baxters in terms of the brand proposition, leadership, depth of distribution, culture and vision," she said. James Horne, who will remain as managing director of CCL Foods, added: "The compatibility which exists between Baxters and CCL is enormous.

"Like us, they have grown from a kitchen shop operation to a multi-million pound FMCG [fast-moving consumer goods] branded business, which has earned a reputation for being one of the country’s leading entrepreneurial family success stories."

Baxters is to launch its first outlet away from its Fochabers headquarters in the near future when it opens a branch in Leith’s Ocean Terminal shopping centre.

The 8000sq ft store will sell cashmere clothes and whisky alongside tins of 48 different types of Baxters soup and a range of traditional Scottish crafts and gifts.

It will also feature a 50-seater restaurant with views over the Forth which will specialise in traditional Scottish food.

Ms Baxter, a former corporate financier, gave up her City lifestyle to return to Fochabers, in Morayshire, to front the family business in 2000. Since she took the helm as chairman and chief executive, Baxters has grown by more than 50 per cent. In March, the company reported a full-year profit of 4.4m, up from 3.1m a year earlier, while turnover rose to 66.5m, up from 52.8m.

The figures were helped by the first full-year contribution from its 9.6m purchase of Garner’s Foods, a pickles, chutneys, and salad dressings specialist.

Exports account for around ten per cent of Baxters’ turnover, but the group hopes to increase that proportion at the same time as doubling in size over the next few years.

The 135-year-old company is based in the north-east town of Fochabers and employs 900 people, with other bases in Glasgow, Grimsby and Pershore. Its visitor centre at Fochabers attracts some 230,000 tourists a year. Visitor numbers rose about nine per cent last year as the tourism sector recovered from the foot-and-mouth outbreak.

Ms Baxter said: "By combining our popular traditional branded product offering with CCL’s premium contemporary ranges the opportunity for future growth is significant.

"We believe this acquisition will assist us in achieving our target of delivering a 100m business within the next two years."

Baxters is reported to have been the target of 191 takeover bids in the past 135 years. Heinz, Quaker Oats and Tetley are among those who have tried to purchase the company, but all have been rebuffed.