Slice of pie market in the can as Baxters buys Fray Bentos

ICONIC Scots food group Baxters has swallowed the £30 million Fray Bentos canned meat business in a move that will bring a major investment and jobs boost to Moray.

Production of the famous tinned pies will shift from Long Sutton in Lincolnshire to Baxters’ factory at Fochabers over the course of the next year.

Baxters remained tight-lipped last night about how many jobs could be created north of the Border and how much money it would invest in shifting production while it enters discussions with staff at the East Anglia site.

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The acquisition is set to provide a major boost to the Scottish group’s current £130m turnover and lift profits beyond their present £6.7m. Fray Bentos’ sales are understood to be about £30m a year.

A spokesman for the soup and jam maker said: “Just imagine what Baxters will be able to do with this brand. Everyone knows Fray Bentos pies.

“This deal will involve a substantial investment in new plant for the Fochabers factory and a big number of jobs for the local economy.”

Audrey Baxter, chairman of the eponymous food company, which was founded in 1868, said: “Like Baxters, Fray Bentos is a heritage brand and is known the length and breadth of the country, holding a special place in the hearts of British consumers both young and old. We have many exciting ideas to revitalise the brand as we aim to secure a strong foothold in the canned meat market.”

Peter Lyall, director of brand and strategic development at Aberdeen-based agency Fifth Ring, said it was possible for a high-quality name such as Baxters to breathe new life into a label such as Fray Bentos, which produces what could be seen as mass-market goods.

He said: “You only have to look as far as what Volkswagen did with the Skoda brand.

“Baxters has the knowledge, expertise and distribution network to make a success out of Fray Bentos. Who better to give it a go? You only have to go back to the 1960s and 1970s and every household in the UK had a Fray Bentos pie in its kitchen.”

Baxters is buying the meat and pie business from Princes – the Liverpool-based food company behind brands including Crisp ’n Dry cooking oil, Flora margarine and Napolina pasta – for an undisclosed sum.

Princes had bought Fray Bentos, which traces its roots back to 1899, from Premier Foods in February as part of the £182m acquisition of its canned foods business, which also included the Crosse & Blackwell brand.

Under the deal, Princes received a long-term licence to produce baked beans and pasta under the Branston and Batchelors labels. The sale was part of Premier Foods’ efforts to pay down its £1 billion debt mountain and came just a month after it offloaded its Quorn meat-free range to Exponent Private Equity for £205m.

But in June the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) ordered Princes to dispose of the Fray Bentos operations after expressing concerns about competition in the canned goods market.

A spokesman for the OFT said the regulator had given its “provisional acceptance” of Baxters as a buyer for the company and said it would launch a public consultation next week. He added that the consultation would be a “relatively quick process”.

Princes would not disclose how many workers are employed at the Fray Bentos plant but 1,000 staff were reported to work at Long Sutton and nearby Wisbech when Princes bought the sites from Premier Foods.