Farming feature: Malt’s ‘friendly face’ stands down after 11 years at the top
In December 2017, Muntons boss Alan Ridealgh announced he would be handing over the reins to his understudy, Mark Tyldesley. Sarah Chambers caught up with Alan as he prepares to take on an ambassadorial role with the family-run malt business which has led the way on sustainable growth.
At the end of last year, Alan Ridealgh announced that he would be standing down as managing director of Stowmarket malt firm Muntons after 11 years at the helm.
During that time the ingredients firm has flourished and he has presided over a period of continued growth underpinned by a streamlining of operations which began in the early 2000s and a strong focus on sustainable development, even before it became a mainstream cause. He and his team successfully championed the idea that making environmentally-friendly improvements could also be good for your bottom line. He has also been the “friendly face” of a sector which can be hidden from public view.
By developing operations around the world during his tenure, and ensuring a strong customer base whose needs are served, Alan has managed to increase turnover and overseas trade during a period dominated by the fallout from the credit crunch and now the Brexit vote - as well as the onward march of the big multinationals.
While many independent food, drink and ingredients firms have been swallowed up by bigger fish, Muntons, a family-owned operation, has managed to buck the trend and maintain its independence.
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Muntons has also sought to make the public more aware of malt’s versatility and the sensational tastes which it can create as a flavour enhancer by promoting it as a product in its own right. As an ingredients firm, it is conscious that its end product can be hidden as an obscure ingredient in foods and drinks. Because of this, its presence is often overlooked, and the company has been keen to bridge the gap with its end consumer.
It is also proud of its short supply chain story - the barley used to make its malt comes mainly from fields close to its plants at Stowmarket and Bridlington, making it possible to pinpoint where it comes from, sometimes even down to the field.
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When Alan took over in 2006, sales stood at £53.5m compared to £90.3m today, while pre-tax profit has soared over the same period from £2.78m to £7.53m. Return on capital has increased from 11% to 20.2%.
At the same time, overseas trade has flourished and the company sells into 61 companies today compared to 54 back then.
The global workforce has also grown, from 283 staff that were all UK based in 2006 to 324 around the world today, including the USA, Singapore and Thailand: it was a particularly proud moment for Alan when the firm opened a factory in Thailand after engaging in a joint venture with an Asian company.
Mark Tyldesley, who was appointed as Alan’s deputy, took over after it became clear that he was already well up to the job, even though a much longer bedding-in period had initially been envisaged.
Now, after a well-earned break, Alan will return in July to a part-time post as vice president of external affairs - a role he is looking forward to.
“The challenges for Mark are the same as they were for me really and that’s growing the business in a business and political environment that’s quite volatile,” he said. “It’s finding a new way through the maze really. We are quite lucky in that our marketplace continues to grow globally in virtually every area and every product type we manufacture, and that’s a good starting point.”
One of the big growth areas for the ingredients side has been cold malted drinks which are popular throughout south-east Asia where they are marketed as an energy drink.
When Alan took on the role of MD 11 years ago, he wanted Muntons to be “a global player” - and he’s succeeded. While there are much larger players which do some of what Muntons does, none do all of it.
“Our markets are still expanding so I think the outlook is extremely bright for the business,” he said. The important thing was to focus on the marketplace, customer service, quality, innovation - and sustainability.
Taking staff on the journey with him as he developed the business has been one of the best parts of the job, he said. And if he had to choose highlights, opening the Thai plant and the wildlife walks at the Stowmarket site are his picks..