viewpoint
Published:  02 February, 2007

I am absolutely thrilled for Martin Lightbody! The celebration cake maker who also makes bakery snacks has agreed to sell the company to Finsbury Foods for £37.5m (see pg 4). Martin led the sale of Lightbody's 26 retail shops in 1995 to set up a wholesale company. In that time he and his team have driven turnover from zero to £50m.

While one may lament that the proposed acquisition by Finsbury means the end of a 100-year-old independent family company, you also have to look at the benefits it will bring. Martin tells me he is looking forward to driving innovation in other parts of Finsbury Food, where he will shortly be the major shareholder with almost 30% of the overall shares. He is relishing the thought of his new role as strategic development director and entering the Baking Industry Awards, where his past trophies are testament to Lightbody's success.

The proposed deal also means more opportunities in cross-selling because while Lightbody has Marks & Spencer and Carrefour as customers, Finsbury has the Co-op, Tesco and Waitrose, for example. Group turnover will now shoot up to £140m a year and group staffing to 2,500.

Finsbury Food, which owns several premium cake companies and two bakeries, is run by chief executive Dave Brooks, who, like Martin Lightbody has boundless enthusiasm, tempered by commercial and common sense. The chartered management accountant was appointed chief executive of Finsbury in November 2002 and has led growth of the group by acquisition. Lightbody is the best buy yet.

Also this week, a new supermarket is coming to town in the shape of Whole Foods Market (pgs 6,24). I have always been struck by the fact that there have been no words to bridge the gap between organic and standard foods. All that may be about to change. The debut of Whole Foods in this country in June, with its emphasis on the word 'natural' (no artificial additives, colours, flavours or preservatives) may mean we see a lot more 'natural' breads and cakes.

But across the whole bakery sector, the problem would be one of policing. Organic, which we focus on this week and next, means you have to have accreditation from a specific body. 'Natural' would be nigh impossible to monitor.




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