Symington’s shake up in bid to boost profit

John Power, chief executive of Symington's. 'Picture : Jonathan Gawthorpe
John Power, chief executive of Symington's. 'Picture : Jonathan Gawthorpe
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Convenience food manufacturer Symington’s has shut down two of its factories and is getting rid of 50 head office staff following a management shake-up.

New chief executive John Power has reduced the number of products it makes and plans to concentrate on four ‘power brands’ in a bid to turn around the business following its first slump in profits in 15 years.

The Leeds-based firm, which is behind the Aunt Bessie’s, Chicken Tonight and Mugshot brands, has shut its gravy factory in Goldthorpe, South Yorkshire, and its £2.5m noodle factory in Leeds. Symington’s was praised in 2014 by then Prime Minister David Cameron for moving its noodle production to Yorkshire from China and creating 50 jobs.

Mr Power said only a few redundancies had been made as a result of the factory closures as many employees had moved to its other sites.

The company, which now has five sites, is currently consulting with employees over a further 50 redundancies as it restructures its marketing and commercial teams. At the end of the process, Mr Power estimates that the number of staff it employs will stand at 700, down from 750.

Mr Power joined the firm as chief operating officer in February to turn around the manufacturing performance and supply chain. He was promoted to chief executive in October, taking over from David Salkeld who stepped down after nine years.

A new chief commercial officer has been appointed to start next month.

The company has halved the number of products it makes - from 1,400 to 700 across 25 brands. It has identified four key power brands to focus on - Mugshot, Naked Noodle, Illumi, and Ainsley Harriott - which make up 60 per cent of its branded turnover.

“Some of the brands we’ve moved away from were the smaller brands which weren’t making much money, including some ‘own brands’,” said Mr Power.

Symington’s has exited the granulated gravy market. “We were trying to compete with the likes of Bisto and our business is about snacking and cooking and baking,” Mr Power said.

Changes in consumer behaviour, competition from the discounters, and rising commodity prices on items such as sugar and garlic, are all having an impact on supermarkets and their suppliers.

Last year Symington’s sales were down five per cent to £141.3m and pre-tax profit fell three per cent to £4.8m, ending a run of 15 consecutive years of growth. The company blamed tough market conditions and losses from recent acquisitions which affected its performance.

It recently moved its year end so there are no comparable figures for 2016 but Mr Power said the company, which was refinanced by its owner ICG earlier this year, was creating a clear strategy for growth.

The firm already sells to Australia and Europe but now it wants to boost exports in Europe and Ireland and explore opportunities in the Middle East and China. “That is something that is very exciting for us,” he said.

Mr Power is also keen to establish a closer relationship with retailers to tap into emerging trends, including health and wellbeing, premium, and free-from. It supplies the main four supermarkets, discounters and convenience stores. “I have visited all our customers to get an insight about we can work better together,” he said.

It is also expanding its customer base by working firms including Vesey Foods, which supplies the British Army brand of ration packs.

“We are really inventive and agile,” said Mr Power. “We are trying to do a fewer things better and we think that will be a really smart way of competing in a tough market.”