Holton: Turkey giant Bernard Matthews to invest £2m in new plant

Bernard Matthews executive chairman David Joll at the company's Great Witchingham Hall headquarters

Bernard Matthews executive chairman David Joll at the company's Great Witchingham Hall headquarters

THE new boss at East Anglian turkey giant Bernard Matthews says a £2million project to install new packaging technology at its Halesworth plant has been signed off.

Executive chair David Joll has been parachuted back into the firm to steady the ship after a turbulent few months. In May, the business was forced to strip 55 staff from its cooked meats division in Norfolk, blaming the “intense pressure” from supermarket competition and soaring feed costs.

After three executive-level staff – chief executive Noel Bartram, chairman David McCall and UK managing director Rob Mears – left the business, company veteran Mr Joll, who retired due to ill health in 2005, was urged by members of the late turkey tycoon’s family to return.

Mr Joll is focusing on finding new ways to boost earnings and save money after the firm recorded £2m profits on sales of £341m last year. This has hampered its ability to drive fresh investment into new infrastructure projects needed to grow the company.

The firm is exploring the option of selling a stake in the business to raise capital, fuelling rumours that Bernard Matthews could be offering itself up for a takeover. Mr Joll said a push would be made to get more of its products into supermarkets across the country, as well as looking at new ways to expand the Bernard Matthews brand. This includes a £2m investment project signed off last week to install more modern packaging machinery at its factory at Holton, which employs around 1,000 staff. Mr Joll has not ruled out further job cuts to the company’s 2,100 staff but the firm said there were no staffing implications to the new technology. “Like any company, we always look at reviewing the manning levels, and our focus will be to increase production in our Norfolk and Suffolk factories,” said Mr Joll. “We need to improve efficiency, so we will be looking at cost again. But we see a future in producing a value-added poultry product.


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“We have a good relationship with the major retailers and we want to increase the distribution of our products in their stores,” he said.

“We need to improve efficiency, so we will be looking at cost again. But we see a future in producing a value-added poultry product.

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“My role will be to make sure we are still efficient in the way we operate, to the way we communicate with each other,” he added.

“Like any company, we always look at reviewing the manning levels, and our focus will be to increase production in our Norfolk and Suffolk factories.”

“We have always looked at saving money,” he said. “The new machinery meant we didn’t need the people we always had.”

So where does the future lie for Bernard Matthews, as Mr Joll drives forward with his strategy to secure a new top-level boss and boost profits? Could we see a departure from its Norfolk roots?

Mr Joll is quick to dismiss the question.

“We have a strong East Anglian base,” he said. “And we are very proud of that.”

Turkey giant Bernard Matthews has been hit by large-scale job cuts and an exodus of top-level bosses. But new executive chairman David Joll is ready to make big decisions for the firm’s future. Business writer BEN WOODS reports.

David Joll should not be at Bernard Matthews – in fact, he should not be in East Anglia at all.

Instead, the new executive chairman of the poultry giant should be sailing his yacht on the sun-kissed waters off the coast of Sardinia.

But that changed last month when he received a phone call from the children of the late-turkey tycoon who urged him to return to the company.

By his own admission, it was a difficult decision to make. Mr Joll spent decades at the organisation before he was forced into early retirement due to ill-health in 2005.

And he is not afraid to say, as he sits in the boardroom at the company headquarters in Great Witchingham Hall, that the thought of coming back made him feel “nervous”.

But the emotional pull of helping the business when it needed him most eventually persuaded him to take up the helm – and at the moment, the company couldn’t need him more.

Mr Joll has been parachuted back into Bernard Matthews to steady the ship after a turbulent few months.

In May, the business was forced to strip 55 staff from its cooked meats division, blaming the “intense pressure” from supermarket competition and soaring feed costs.

But it was the departure of three executive-level staff that sparked the phone call – with chief executive Noel Bartram, chairman David McCall and UK managing director Rob Mears all leaving the business.

And with no obvious candidate to take over, Mr Joll has been tasked with scouring the country to find a suitable chief executive to lead Bernard Matthews into the future – although the company is in no hurry to find a replacement.

“We haven’t been terribly happy because we have not made the profits that we could, and the fact that David McCall was approaching 80, and Noel Bartram didn’t have the best of health, the family have been concerned,” Mr Joll said.

“I had their confidence, and they wanted somebody back at the top who could not only run the business, but also search for a new chief executive.

“But for now the search has been suspended. We want to spend a lot of time going back to basics, and we have got to search the market because a rapid appointment is always a high risk one. We want to find someone suitable who can also spend some time with me to get to know the company.”

Although no candidate has been earmarked yet, it is likely the target will fall on a high-flyer within the food manufacturing industry where Bernard Matthews is a major player.

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