Bakery giant ‘rises to biggest challenge of chairman’s tenure’

William Jackson Foods Ltd has seen sales cross the quarter of a billion pound mark in 2020 as it prepares to give The Co-op its daily bread from the spring.

The Hull-headquartered business saw sales of £251.5 million in the year to April 25, up from £226.9 million in 2019.

However, losses continued – with a £17.4 million hit following a £19.7 million reverse the previous year, as it pushed on with its diversification strategy which saw Yorkshire pudding arm Aunt Bessie’s sold and fine ingredients specialist Wellocks and balsamic vineger and olive oil brand Belazu added.

And the final weeks were “significantly impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic with the group seeing a significant fall in foodservice sales not fully mitigated by incremental retail and direct-to-consumer volume”, the company revealed.

The bakeries in Hull and Corby, Northamptonshire, supply sandwich makers crippled by home-working, as well as shops.

It is one of the first businesses to report on a period within the pandemic.

Chairman Nicholas Oughtred, great grandson of the eponymous founder, said: “We have risen to the biggest challenge of my tenure as chairman, guided by our values and three principles of conserving cash, protecting our people and maintaining strong businesses for the future.

“Backed by incredible people and significant cash reserves, we have delivered for our customers in difficult times and will continue to do so. I remain humbled by the hard work and leadership of my colleagues, who exemplified every day that our businesses are businesses to be proud of”.

Nicholas Oughtred, chairman of William Jackson Food Group.
Nicholas Oughtred, chairman of William Jackson Food Group.
(Image: rstebbing)

On the major deal with Co-op, he described it as a “great partner for us with values similar to our own”. William Jackson will provide own-label bread.

He told how the pandemic had a varying impact on the business, with foodservice-focused Wellocks and Belazu hardest hit, while direct-to-consumer organic vegetable box retailer Abel & Cole “saw a surge in demand”.

“Jacksons and MyFresh saw volatile demand at the early stages, with a reduction at the peak of the crisis,” Mr Oughtred said of the bakery and fresh produce elements in the strategic report prepared in September, adding: “At its height, the pandemic took our sales to 67 per cent of their pre-Covid-19 levels.”

At the end of the last quarter – ahead of the second lockdown – they were back at 90 per cent and continuing to grow, though costs of £1.4 million in dealing with the pandemic were also incurred.

Since the year closed in late April, it has sold health food business The Food Doctor to Euro Food Brands, a large speciality food and drink brands.

It has also secured a three year revolving credit facility with Barclays to the tune of £10 million, and underlines a “strong balance sheet and good cash reserves”.

And employer of 1,940, new chief executive James Watson and chief financial officer Monica Turner were both welcomed in during the period, with Norman Soutar and Gary Umston retiring, having clocked up 23 years’ service between them.