Fox's Biscuits offers golden opportunity for Ferrero to invest in region, says Yorkshire leaders

Civic and business leaders across Yorkshire have said the take-over of one of Yorkshire’s oldest businesses by Italian Nutella and Kinder chocolate giant Ferrero, creates a “huge opportunity” to improve working conditions and bring the business into the 21st century.

Fox's Biscuits is a famous Yorkshire brand.

Tracy Brabin, MP for Batley and Spen and Shadow Minister for Creative Industries, has urged the Italian confectioner, which has agreed to buy Fox’s Biscuits from supermarket chicken supplier 2 Sisters Food Group, including the biscuit factories in Batley, in a £246m deal, to take "Foxes biscuits into the future," and help up skill workers.

Ms Brabin, who worked at Fox’s Biscuits in Batley when she was 18 during a summer job and recalled being offered to "eat as many biscuits as you want" on shift, visited the factory two months ago.

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She told The Yorkshire Post: "As someone who spent a summer working at Foxes Biscuits, as most people in Batley probably have worked there at some point... I am actually reassured and quite pleased that Ferrero have taken it over.

Tracy Brabin, MP for Batley and Spen and Shadow Minister for Creative Industries.

"Foxes has always been an excellent biscuit and this could make it even better.

"I am hoping Ferrero can take Fox’s Biscuits into the future - so rather than losing jobs, they focus on upskilling our young people so they can not just necessarily pack biscuits but they can be the coders, or move into senior staff role and create a skilled workforce that we need for a modern 21st century business."

Commenting on the potential job losses the take-over could pose, Ms Brabin said she had been reassured in an email from Ferrero this week that no immediate job losses were on the cards. She added in a Batley and Spen landscape, where there are currently 5,000 people out of work, the European ownership offered a "ray of light" for the community.

Ms Brabin said: "It is looking grim, there is no getting away from it...I am not optimistic about that number going down anytime soon. I am really concerned that the new restrictions could massively impact on the hospitality sector especially, but also anybody who has been self employed.

Henri Murison, the director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership.

"This has been an incredibly tough time so a business coming in with a positive energy and certainly their email was very upbeat about what they hope to achieve."

She added: "I have been reassured by Ferrero that in the immediate future there will be no changes to staff numbers, which is good because what you don’t want is that insecurity coming up to Christmas that you might lose your job."

The £246m deal - which is set to complete within months - marks Ferrero's second biscuit takeover in the past year, coming after it bought Royal Dansk firm Kelsen last September.

Ferrero said it wants to "increase its relevance in the rich and fine biscuits category", having also acquired Biscuits Delacre in 2016.

Coun Shabir Pandor, Leader of Kirklees Council. Photo credit: JPIMedia

Henri Murison, the director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership - a lobbying group representing northern businesses, said he hoped a focus for the new owners, who will be taking over the biscuit factories in Batley, and Kirkham in Lancashire, would be in recognising the efforts of the "key workers" at a local level and not just profit.

He said: "Food manufacturing remains a significant employer across the wider North of England, and Fox's biscuits a much-loved favourite for many.

"The workforce at Batley and Kirkham across the Pennines are our primary concern, as this a business which is resilient to the current health and resulting economic crisis.

"Having been part of the wider critical grocery supply chain, working on the production line to keep the shelves stocked, these key workers need to be recognised for their value – which we hope we will see from the businesses' new owners."

Pictured, Tracy Brabin, MP for Batley and Spen and Shadow Minister for Creative Industries, who worked at Fox's Biscuits in Batley when she was 18.

Fox's Biscuits is one of Britain's best-known biscuit brands, making household names such as Rocky Bars, Party Rings, Crunch Creams, Crinkle Creams, Chocolatey and Viennese, as well as making own-label biscuits for major retailers.

Its history dates back to 1853 and the business has annual sales of around £157m.

Batley-born Ms Brabin said with a "luxury brand" and European ownership on board it could create a lasting legacy in the community for young peopl.

She said: "Since I became a member of Parliament I have made it my mission to try and inspire and be ambitious for our community.... And working with young people and encouraging them to be big and bold and ambitious and you shouldn’t have to leave your community to fulfill your dreams, because what you want to do in life is actually in your community already.

"It’s going to be tough for the next few months but as we come out of covid I do think this is an opportunity to really be ambitious for our communities.

"We have to redefine who we are and what we can achieve and I am absolutely an advocate for aspiration and ambition for young people but also those who are looking to retrain because of covid job losses. There should be an opportunity for them to retrain."

Martin Hathaway, managing director of the Mid Yorkshire Chamber, said that while it was "sad" to see this historic Yorkshire brand pass into European ownership, overseas investment would provide a much needed boost to the region, particularly during the current economic climate.

He said: “From our perspective, we hope that the arrival of Ferrero will help drive future economic growth and job creation within Batley and the wider West Yorkshire area.”

Coun Shabir Pandor, Leader of Kirklees Council, added: "I hope this news means reassurance for local people and security for the future. Clearly, there are implications still to be worked out but if the deal brings with it expansion, then it’s good news for an iconic brand and the community who make Fox’s Biscuits so popular.

"Fox’s Biscuits is a worldwide brand but it has a special place in the Batley community and is vital to so many people in our area. I remember growing up with Fox’s on my doorstep with the smell of freshly baked biscuits which has been there for generations.

"I really hope the deal sees them go from strength to strength. We have an outstanding workforce, we are well connected and it’s a great place for people to work and live. We are an ideal location for businesses, both large and small, to set up and expand."

Fox's Biscuit deal

Ranjit Singh Boparan, president of 2 Sisters owner Boparan Holdings, said: "Fox's Biscuits has always been an attractive brand and as one of only two major independent biscuit makers in the UK, it is a prized asset in this market.

"We have listened to many interested parties over the years, but we have always been clear that Fox's would only be sold to the right new home, at the right time and for the right value.

"This sale represents another significant deal for us, underlining our commitment to our business turnaround."

As part of the deal, 2 Sisters will keep the third biscuit bakery at Uttoxeter, which produces own-label biscuits for major retailers.

Mr Boparan - known as the "chicken king" because of 2 Sisters' large scale involvement in the poultry trade - bought Fox's when he acquired Northern Foods for £342m in 2011.

He also took on Northern's Goodfella's pizzas brand as part of the deal.

The chicken tycoon was accused of trying to "impugn the impartiality" of a parliamentary inquiry into food standards at 2 Sisters by sending out Fox's biscuits to MPs as Christmas gifts in 2017.

The then chair of the environment, food and rural affairs committee, Neil Parish, said it was an "inappropriate gesture" amid an ongoing probe, but 2 Sisters insisted it was just an annual goodwill gesture.

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James Mitchinson