The Norfolk turkey produce baron Bernard Matthews, who built Europe’s largest turkey farm from the ground up, died yesterday aged 80.
Mr Matthews, famous for personally appearing in television adverts since the 1980’s presenting the firm’s ‘bootiful’ branding, died on Thursday afternoon (November 25) after a long illness. He reportedly suffered from Alzheimer’s disease in recent years.
Having begun his company with a budget of £2.50 in 1950, aged just 20, Matthews quickly grew the company into Europe’s biggest turkey farm and floated the firm in 1971.
After prosperous decades spent as one of the nation’s most popular food brands, the company’s fortunes began to suffer in the late 90s with its products beginning to wane in public favour. The pinnacle of this decline came when its Turkey Twizzler product was made to bear the cross of TV chef Jamie Oliver’s crusade to remove supposedly low nutritious food from school canteens.
In 2007 the firm was further hit by the outbreak of avian flu and it recorded a loss of over £70m. Things have picked up since, though, and the year after that loss was reduced to just £4m against turnover of £335.5 million. The figures for 2009 are as yet unavailable.
The company still employs 2,500 people at its site just outside of Norwich.
Announcing the news of Matthews’ passing this morning, Noel Bartram, Bernard Matthews Farms Group Chief Executive said: “It is with a great deal of personal sadness that I confirm Bernard Matthews passed away on the afternoon of the 25th November.
“I have personally known Bernard Matthews for well over 30 years, and on behalf of myself and my fellow colleagues, I wish to express our great sorrow and extend our thoughts and sympathies to the family.
“Rarely has any business been as synonymous with the hard work and values of one man. It was Bernard Matthews who grew and developed this company through his entrepreneurial spirit, and clear focus.
“From simple beginnings, with an initial investment of just £2.50 sixty years ago, Bernard Matthews was responsible for taking the business from twenty turkey eggs and a second-hand paraffin incubator to a successful and thriving multi million pound company. He is the man who effectively put turkey on the plates of everyday working families and in so doing became one of the largest employers in rural East Anglia and a major supporter of the local farming community.
“Through his own struggles as a young entrepreneur, he was always keen to support young people and the company was a founder Charter Member of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme. Thanks to the success of the business he also helped support many other charitable causes, often in an unsung manner, but notably the independent Caister Lifeboat and the Nelson Museum in Great Yarmouth, both of which demonstrated his keen love of Norfolk and the sea.”
Matthews was awarded with a CVO and a CBE for his services with the Duke of Edinburgh Award.
He is survived by his wife, four children and six grandchildren.