Q. Tell me about the background of Cereform.
A. Cereform is part of AB Mauri, the yeast and bakery ingredients division of Associated British Foods. The company dates back to 1982, when Associated British Foods set up AB Ingredients. It merged with Kingsgate Food Ingredients in 2001 and later that year we acquired Kerry SPP, which also made us the owner of the UK’s only soya mill. The newly combined company was named Cereform – abbreviating the term ‘cereal formulations’.
Q. Forming the company must have caused quite a bit of upheaval?
A. It’s been hard work but we have an excellent team, headed by five directors, and it is about working together well. There has been a lot of activity on projects, such as getting the computer systems and people from three disciplines to work together. It’s alright throwing people into teams, but it takes a lot of settling down and the product range has to be rationalised. You suddenly find you have three versions of the same product.
Q. What are Cereform’s strengths and weaknesses?
A. We cover most product sectors of the market but believe we are particularly strong in bread conditioners, as well as confectionery, although people don’t realise quite how strong we are in that sector.
I don’t think there’s anything we are missing. The critical mass we now have works to our advantage. We have recently expanded our research and development work. It’s what we are about really. If I sum up our business, it’s about having confidential relationships with customers and helping them to take advantage of opportunities. As long as they want to come to us to help them, we will always prosper.
One of our huge advantages is that we can call on specific Associated British Foods companies for help to develop products, such as very advanced conditioning systems.
Q. What are your plans for the Cereform range?
A. We supply 774 products, including different pack sizes. That is more than we would like. We are looking at rationalising the product range through our product optimisation team. We have a target to reduce the range down to 500 in the next six months. We have a lot of seasonal products and a lot of duplication. If we can reduce them without affecting customer choice, it will be beneficial to the business. We have got rid of 130 lines in the last 12 months.
Q. Where do you think the opportunities lie for your company?
A. We see opportunities in the bread sector. We have proved we are very strong with the technology we can offer. We like to think we understand what our industrial customers require. We don’t try to be a bit of everything. We have been very specialised in where we focus our activity and we have been very successful in supplying the plant bakery market. We supply all the plant bakers apart from two. Forecasted turnover is about £54m for the year to September, 2006. It has continued to grow since the conception of the business. Year on year growth is 4%.
Q. What are the main product trends in the UK?
A. We have an active new product development department and it is working on key areas such as low glycaemic index (GI), non-hydrogenated fat, low fat and low salt. With lowering the salt content of bread, you get two problems. The functional attributes that salt brings to the product are affected, as so is the flavour. We want to get as low a salt content as possible, but not to the detriment of the product.
We tend to find a lot of our products, particularly on the bread side, are already low-GI. But we haven’t had them assessed and we are not planning to launch a GI-branded product.
On hydrogenated fats we have provided an alternative for those who are looking for it. We are not imposing anything on anyone.
Q. What does the future hold for bakery ingredients manufacturers?
A. The market is extremely competitive and customers quite rightly are demanding. Cereform wants to grow in the UK and in Europe. We will go for key industrial targets.
Hopefully, our NPD and the fact we target limited sectors means we are ideally placed to satisfy these markets. I think there will be further consolidation in the bakery ingredients world. Some of our competitors are doing better than others, shall we say.
Q. How did you end up working for Cereform?
A. I started with Rank Hovis in 1976, straight from school. I just wrote to the company saying ‘give me a job’. I then went on to the management trainee programme. I was initially destined for distribution management but I went on to do sales. In those days in an organisation such as Rank there were hundreds of steps between me and the sales director. I slowly went up the ladder and left as general sales manager. I looked after the craft end of the business for England and Wales. I left to become sales and marketing director for Edme in 1998. Following this I was asked to come over and take this role in 2002 when Cereform was formed.
Q. What are your main interests outside work?
A. I live with my partner Mariesa and her daughter in Yorkshire. I also have two boys – the oldest is 21 and is in his last year at Northumberland University doing law. Hopefully he will be able to keep me in the style I’ve become accustomed to! My younger son who is 14 is still at school.
I don’t really have a great deal of time at the moment, but I have done all sorts of stupid things in the past like falling off horses and driving four-wheel-drive vehicles up and down hills. I am a bit of a petrolhead – I’m interested in anything to do with cars. I have a Mercedes with very fancy wheels and lowered suspension. I don’t let anyone else drive it in case they scratch the wheels. I have to admit I am subjected to quite a bit of Mickey-taking about my car.
Living just outside Hull is hardly ideal for working in Northampton. But I’ve always lived in that area and I prefer to commute. That’s what I keep telling myself when I get up at half past five in the morning.
I am predominantly office based, but I would prefer to get out more. I love the buzz of being with customers; that’s how you find out what’s going on in the business.