Brian Stein, chief executive of Samworth Brothers, talks to Tim Brown about the company’s origins, its impressive range of group businesses and the company’s plans for the future.
With more than a century in food production, Samworth Brothers is a family-owned company with 13 businesses producing high quality chilled foods mainly for the UK with some export market.
Employing 7,000 people in modern and well capitalised production sites in Leicestershire, Cornwall and Bedfordshire, the company has developed a large and diverse portfolio of food products and cultivated strong relationships with the UK’s biggest food retailers.
The Samworth Brothers story began in 1969 when the Samworth family purchased Nottingham-based Pork Farms. Eight years later, following the retirement of Frank Samworth Snr his sons purchased Ginsters Cornish Pasties and sold Pork Farms to Northern Foods. In 1985, the name of Ginsters’ holding company was changed to Samworth Brothers, after which the company acquired Leicesterbased pork pie maker Walker & Son.
The main focus for Samworth Brothers became Cornish pasties and Melton Mowbray Pork Pies from Leicestershire. The Cornish pasty has a strong heritage, originally being made for Cornish miners. With a large hand crimped pastry edge the design allowed the miners to eat the pasty with dirty hands, holding it by the edge which could then be thrown away.
Twelve years ago, Samworth Brothers began an exercise to achieve protected status for some of its products. In a similar way that some sparkling wines can only be labelled champagne if they are made in the Champagne-Ardenne region of France, Samworth Brothers successfully achieved protected geographic indication for Melton Mowbray Pies. The company is in the process of attaining the same approval for Cornish pasties. “If you go back over the years, Spain, Italy and France have been very strong at getting protected status for their traditional foods, while the UK has not,” says chief executive Brian Stein. “Now you will now find several British companies that have protected status for their products.” In the last two decades, the company has also expanded into other markets such as ready meals, desserts, salads, sandwiches, sausages and ham. Indeed, at 3.5 million sandwiches a week it is the second biggest sandwich maker in the UK. According to Stein, Samworth Brothers is the most diversified chilled food manufacturer in the UK. In line with the company’s product expansion, the vast majority of the company’s businesses are focused on producing own label chilled food for Waitrose, Marks and Spencers, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, ASDA, Morrisons and the Co-op.
“Our main branded product, Ginsters, is very important to Samworth Brothers, it is what we are famous for,” says Stein.
“But Ginsters is now only about 20-25% of the business. The reality is that over the years as the retailers have demanded more and more own label they have also demanded better and better standards.
Samworth Brothers has been in a good position to cope with that.”
Close to the action
Samworth Brothers is largely a decentralised company with operational decisions usually being made by the individual businesses. Each managing director reports directly into a member of the group executive board, and only six people are based at its central office in Melton Mowbray. While it operates this separated structure, the group does leverage its scale by coordinating its purchasing to achieve least cost as well as share best practice. Every business is run by its own board of directors with the full support of dedicated sales, personnel, finance and other teams on site. This provides the sites with individual ownership and allows customers to benefit from fast response times and specialist knowledge.
“We expect the managing director and directors of individual sites to run their business and be very close to its customers, staff and their particular sector, whether that be desserts, sandwiches or pork pies,” says Stein. “It is only by those people being experts in those particular sectors that we have developed the strength that we have.” Stein also believes that this specialisation has allowed the company to excel and be competitive particularly in the own brand sector, a term used to describe food produced by a manufacturer using the retailer’s branding. “Specialisation has been good for manufacturing as it brings about particular skills,” he says. “People then become better and better at very small areas and also more efficient. The whole of the supply chain relies upon that and it works incredibly well with people performing the tasks that they are good at.” In addition, he says that the level of expertise needed for the manufacturing of chilled food also acts as a protective barrier against start-up competition.
The plan on both the macro and micro levels of Samworth Brothers is to continue to develop and grow. Using its large diverse portfolio of products, the group companies are endeavouring to exceed the expectations of their customers and by doing so further develop the company’s reputation and generate subsequent interest. “With the recession, our strategy is to do the day job well so that the retailers can see that the company is always delivering on time with the right technical standards with the right product development. By doing that more people will come knocking at our door, as they already are.”