Guided by CEO Frank Bird – who stepped into the role in May last year – Hill Biscuits is strategically positioning itself for sustained growth.
The task will be shared among the company’s recently appointed senior team, including operations director Simon Worth, CFO Brendon Ward-Banner and commercial director Tracey Meadows. Together, they will be spearheading initiatives to improve business performance while setting new benchmarks in quality and process control and people development.
“The senior team is now leading a transformation of the working practices at the factory, establishing new standards across the company with a data-driven approach,” said Bird.
“Our focus spans all areas of the business, developing a pivotal point on efficiency and bakery performances, while ensuring that quality is at the heart of our enhancements. The delivery of our plans will be supported through improving our emphasis on people development and acquiring natural succession within the business in all key roles, while also having an adaptive focus on process improvement and preventative maintenance.”
From humble beginnings
From its in two acre site in Ashton-under-Lyne, Hill’s biscuit plant operates 24 hours a day to produce over 100 product lines of traditional British biscuits – including flavoured cream Custard Creams, Fruit Shorties, Bourbon Fingers and Digestives, among others – all following family recipes handed down through the generations. The company’s beginnings started as a small shop in Manchester opened in 1855 by Sarah and John Hill, moving into Tudno Mill in Ashton-under Lyne in 1893.
The Brits love of biscuits has grown, evident in the company’s substantial increase in sales revenue since 2021, achieving an impressive 50% growth in 2023. This is projected to rise even further in 2024.
However, the market remains challenging and Hill has had to quickly adapt to shifting consumer trends. Nevertheless, its ability to lead on cost, value and quality has underlined its resilience.
In fact, while many biscuit manufacturers target premium products with higher mark-ups, Bird sees opportunities for the more traditional lines.
“There has been a lot of movement in the market recently with some manufacturers making the decision to follow the premium trend that, in turn, has created opportunities for Hill’s to expand on its ability in producing traditional quality biscuits: which is what Hill is all about,” said Bird.
This year, the LDC Private Equity portfolio company will be exploring potential co-manufacturing partnerships to relaunch the Sarah Hill brand, a premium product range that includes cookie type products and potentially even coated biscuits.
“This move could also increase Hill’s overall market presence, creating innovative opportunities in new product ranges and for further partnerships," said Bird.
He added the company will also be investing in expanding onsite capacity throughout 2024 and into 2025 to ensure the plant meets the escalating demand for its products and the evolving requirements of its customer needs.
“There is an equal significance placed on process and product development – creativity should always extend to operating methods as much as product design – this is where we are focussing our capital investments.”
An engineer’s eye
Bird is perfectly suited to lead the company into the next era of growth, coming aboard with extensive bakery industry experience, including senior leadership roles at Delifrance and Aryzta.
His career, however, did not kick off in the food scene but in the aircraft industry, a common thread he shares with Hill’s executive chairman Steve Greenhalgh. Both men were engineers, with experiences that equip them with valuable insights into refining manufacturing processes and uncovering efficiency gains. The two previously collaborated on Kate’s Cakes bakery in West Sussex, which they sold to Danish food giant CSM for £32.5m in 2007.
The duo’s ability to leverage their individual strengths – Greenhalgh’s strategic insights complementing Bird’s operational finesse – while maintaining a common goal has allowed them to weather challenges and propel business performances to new heights. Today, at the helm of Hill Biscuits, their proven relationship is now the driving force behind the company, fostering an environment of innovation and adaptability.
“Leveraging my experiences – along with the knowledge within the team – we are meticulously scrutinising our business, identifying inefficiencies and adjusting practices to optimise productivity, enabling us to manage capability and costs without compromising quality,” said Bird.
Added Greenhalgh, “We are confident in our strategies and excited about developing the future of the company to meet the demand for our everyday biscuits.
“We are in a strong position where we can lead on cost and value, with a quality range of products.”