It can take time to build a great food manufacturing business and, in this case, two. One is a UK market leader; the other is a global innovator. Pasta Foods and its sister company Snack Creations can be dated back to 1878 with the opening of a mill on the River Yare in Norfolk, still in operation today as the UK’s only dedicated semolina mill. Pasta Foods Ltd was the combination of several pasta businesses in 1956. It then became a division of the RHM food group in the 1980s and in which it remained until a management buy-out in 2003.
A leader of this buy-out was Simon Webber, an executive who had cut his corporate teeth at the Tomkins conglomerate in the 1990s. He knew from the start that it would be a long journey. There had been chronic under-investment in the group yet the market for pasta in the UK was growing strongly. And within the business was an interesting operation making “snack pellets” – extruded shapes made from potato which food manufacturers could fry, bake, expand, season and package into a variety of savoury snacks.
Over the next two decades, the business grew steadily – but not perhaps as rapidly as Webber believed it could. In 2014, pasta production capacity was boosted by the opening of a new factory in Norwich. But the potential for the snack pellet business, which was serving a growing number of customers making “healthy” snacks from lentils and chickpeas, was being constrained by an old and increasingly inefficient plant at Great Yarmouth.
In 2019, Simon Webber bought out the snack business from his colleagues to create a separate company – Snack Creations. Then, in 2020, he bought them out of Pasta Foods as well.
Today, as the sole owner, he is determined to grow the group for the long term. “My ownership period is forever,” he says.
Although sharing the same heritage and ownership, the two businesses are very different – particularly in their growth trajectories and finance requirements.