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British Pepper and Spice

British Pepper & Spice can trace its roots back more than 300 years and by the late 1990s had grown to be the second largest manufacturer of dried herbs, spices and seasonings in the UK for the retail, foodservice and food manufacturing markets.


The company was identified as part of one of our origination programmes in 1997. At the time, it was owned by Burns Philp, a large Australian food conglomerate, and deemed non-core to their business. Despite reasonable sales levels, the company was loss-making, though the appointment of a new managing director, Ian James, in 1997 had already laid the foundations for a turnaround of the business. We supported Ian and his team in the management buy-out of the business in May 1998.

The Big Idea

Despite its poor historical trading performance, the business was now managed by a strong and well motivated team. Through our own analysis and due diligence we believed that the team’s strategies for profit and business value improvement were supportable. These strategies were premised on substantial organic growth potential in its main markets, plus diversification into new added-value products, and the business was eventually acquired at a significant discount to real net asset value.

The Grand Plan

After we backed the business, we provided significant investment in much needed process plant and systems which resulted in a significant improvement in operational efficiencies and manufacturing capability. Furthermore, we supported additional investment into a new product category via the acquisition of an exclusive licence for “Gourmet Garden”, an innovative new brand of “wet herbs”.

The Bottom Line

The business grew by 50% during our period of involvement. It was sold to an overseas trade buyer, SHS Group, in August 2004.


Investment Summary

Date of investment:  May 1998
Deal status:  Realised
Date of realisation:  August 2004
For more information talk to:  Neil Wallace

“Primary backed our turnaround MBO in 1998. They saw in us a capable management team desperate to prove that our company was viable and that our business plans just needed a chance to succeed. Over the next 6 years Primary gave us, not only further financial investment when we needed to expand, but more importantly the guidance and support required to flourish and grow towards a successful exit. On a personal note the close association and dedication of our Investor Director provided a dynamic and rewarding relationship that was key to delivering both top line growth and ultimately a very satisfactory profit.
   I wouldn’t hesitate in recommending Primary to any management team considering their options for securing a partner to support their business venture.”

Ian James, CEO, British Pepper & Spice

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