Top 200, 2014: Quorn set to move up table after strong year

The sight of a third Quorn fermenter taking shape on Teesside, that will boost capacity by 50% and create 400 jobs after start-up next year, is clear evidence of Quorn's intention to keep turnover and profit upwardly mobile

Simon Dewhurst Photography Kevin Brennan, Chief Executive of Quorn Foods
Kevin Brennan, Chief Executive of Quorn Foods

There's been plenty of action among major North East Top 200 candidates that currently enjoy private equity backing and investment.

A presence of external financial input usually drives change – signalling an acceleration of growth in particular. So it will be interesting to focus on businesses such as R&R Ice Cream, Quorn, ScS, Kitwave, Aesica Pharmaceutical and SMD.

Quorn’s chief executive Kevin Brennan, we know, is pushing sales of the Stokesley firm (backed by Exponent) in Germany, Denmark, Sweden, South Africa and Finland, bolstered in marketing confidence by knowing his meat substitute product is being consumed even more by meat eaters than vegetarians now.

The sight of a third Quorn fermenter taking shape on Teesside, that will boost capacity by 50% and create 400 jobs after start-up next year, is clear evidence of Quorn’s intention to keep turnover and profit upwardly mobile.

Given earlier half year news of a 9% rise in global sale, it would be surprising indeed if the company has not improved on last year’s turnover of £131m and the means thereby to rise even higher in the table than the 55th place achieved previously.

R&R Ice Cream (acquired in secondary buyout for £715m last year by French equity partners PAI, in what Paul Mankin, PwC’s specialist in mergers and acquisitions, described as the biggest North East deal of the year) is entering a new chapter in its ongoing story of growth. James Lambert, who co-founded the Leeming Bar firm in 1987, has stepped down as non-executive chairman, having previously been chief executive.

Reports that R&R may close a Leeds operation should not be taken as a hint of downsizing. Lambert might not have remained so substantial a shareholder had that been the case. He will no doubt be eager to see the business continue its bid to move up from second biggest to biggest among Europe’s ice-cream manufacturers.

R&R did not lose its North East status on merging with Roncadin of Germany previously and, unless financial controls existing are moved out of our region this time, the company may this year and in the future improve on last year’s 15th place in the North East Top 200.

The Top 200, 2014
The Top 200, 2014

SMD (backed by Inflexion) was a star performer on last year’s list, climbing 13 places to 57th - and with Andrew Hodgson still chief executive of Wallsend’s builder of remote subsea vehicles, there’s likely to be little grass growing under feet.

Inflexion brought in Hodgson on acquiring a 60% stake in the business in 2008, and the former strategy director of BAE Systems rewarded the investors’ faith in him by trebling turnover within a few years. The company has in recent times diversified its market probing from offshore energy to precious metal prospecting in the Far East.

Kitwave (supported by NVM) rose 20 places last year on the back of acquisitions, more of which may be expected. The North Shields wholesale and distribution group’s managing director Paul Young will be as surprised as anyone if Kitwave hasn’t stepped up from 46th this time.

Silverfleet and NorthEdge have been the capital providers for Aesica and Ramsdens Financial, both of which are now in metamorphosis. Tyneside based Aesica, which Dr Robert Hardy set up in 2004 through a management buyout from BASF, and who saw this company rise from 45th to 41st in last year’s Top 200, has now been acquired by stock exchange listed Consort Medical, based at Hemel Hempstead.

And Ramsdens Financial, a recipient of private equity from NorthEdge and based in Middlesbrough, has gone through a management buyout led by chief executive Peter Kenyon, following the decision by owner and chairman Stewart Smith to retire.

Smith, like Andrew Hodgson, is a former North East Business Executive of the Year.

Ramsdens, the UK’s largest independent pawnbroker, jumped from 123rd to 111th in last year’s Top 200.

Both Aesica and Ramsdens are certain to be on the list again this year, regardless of their recent transitions.

Top 200 breakfast

The Top 200 awards breakfast will be at The Stadium of Light, Sunderland, SR5 1SU on Tuesday, October 21, from 7.30am-10.30am.

To reserve tables or tickets at the business awards breakfast where Top 200 presentations will be made - or for any further information - contact Abbi Aitken, events manager, on telephone 0191 201 6166 or email

Tables of 10 are available at £300 plus VAT and individual tickets are available at £35 each plus VAT.

The package includes the awards presentations, refreshments, full English breakfast, networking and Question and Answer panel to discuss the impact of the result of the Scottish referendum.



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