US food firm said to be in talks to buy North East meat free manufacturers Quorn Foods

"We will obviously be sold at some point," says Quorn Foods in response to takeover rumours

Simon Dewhurst Photography Kevin Brennan, Chief Executive of Quorn Foods, is pictured at the company's premises in Stokesley
Kevin Brennan, Chief Executive of Quorn Foods, is pictured at the company's premises in Stokesley

Meat free food maker Quorn is reported to be the target of a US giant looking to snap up the rapidly growing North East business.

WhiteWave Foods is said to have held preliminary discussions with Exponent Private Equity, the owners of the Teesside-headquartered firm.

Quorn Foods, which employs several hundred people across sites in Billingham and Stokesley, said it will be sold at some point, but declined to comment further.

WhiteWave Foods is a New York Stock Exchange listed group which owns several brands includes dairy free milk alternative Alpro and other plant based foods including Silk and So Delicious.

A Quorn spokesman said: “As a private equity-owned company, we will obviously be sold at some point, but our management team is currently focused on continuing the growth of the company.

“Beyond that, we don’t comment on rumours or speculation.”

News of the reported move by the WhiteWave comes after Quorn reached record global sales in January, buoyed by customers seeking sustainable diets after ditching fad diets.

The vegetarian food specialists reported an 8% growth to £14.6m sales in the first month of the year, at a time when many food manufacturers saw flat sales.

The firm, which is planning to expand into at least one new international market in 2015, experienced surging sales in all 15 countries it directly supplies.

In the UK, sales rose by 6% – £10.9m – while Quorn’s rapid growth continued in the US where it recorded a 64% increase in revenues last month.

The strong start to 2015 comes on the back of a successful 2014 which saw the company achieve record sales of £150m and attract an additional 1.86m new customers, with non-vegetarians now accounting for three-quarters of its customer base.

The brand is well known for its adverts with Olympic and world champion athlete Mo Farah, though it is changing the emphasis of the ads to focus on its product as an “everyday food”, rather than a fitness food.

Journalists

David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer