The Albert Fisher Group plc History
Buckinghamshire SL2 4FG
Telephone: (+44) 1753-677-877
Fax: (+44) 1753-664-481
Incorporated: 1920 as Albert Fisher & Son Limited
Sales: £612.4 million ($1.03 billion) (2000)
Stock Exchanges: London
Ticker Symbol: FSH
NAIC: 311712 Fresh and Frozen Seafood Processing; 311421 Fruit and Vegetable Canning; 311991 Perishable Prepared Food Manufacturing
With the objective to be a leading customer branded food company through commitment to quality, service and value for money, we aim to exploit our sourcing and processing expertise and work closely with customers to continually enhance the quality of our products and services. Key Dates:
- Albert Fisher incorporates Albert Fisher & Son Limited.
- Company reincorporates as Albert Fisher Group.
- The Group goes public on Liverpool stock exchange.
- Company gains listing on London stock exchange.
- Tony Millar becomes CEO.
- Company acquires Stokes Bomford Ltd. Carnival Fruit Company (U.S.A.).
- Company acquires Plane Trucking; Coast Produce (U.S.A.); and Ziff Company (U.S.A.).
- Company acquires Guanaria & Sons Ltd; sells Henry Long Transport Ltd.
- Company acquires Holco BV (Netherlands); sells Ziff Company.
- Stephen Walls joins as non-executive chairman.
- Company sells North American distribution business; Neil England becomes CEO.
- Market capitalization slumps to £38 million; Walls and England resign.
- Company begins disposal program and restructuring.
- Company consolidates its frozen vegetable processing operations.
The Albert Fisher Group plc is one of the United Kingdom's leading fresh, chilled, and frozen foods groups, operating within the fruits and vegetables and seafood markets. The company is the leading supplier of frozen vegetables in the United Kingdom and also processes and distributes a wide range of foods, from frozen fruits to rice and pasta to precooked meals. In the United States, the company is also a leading supplier of fresh packaged salads. Albert Fisher Group, which has undergone a thorough reorganization through the 1990s, now operates through three primary divisions: Fisher Foods (U.K.); River Ranch Fresh Foods (U.S.A.); and produce distribution and trading. The company markets its own brands of frozen and chilled products, such as Fisher in the United Kingdom and River Ranch in the United States, and is a major supplier to the private label market. Albert Fisher Group, which trades on the London stock exchange, is led by chairman Hugh Ashton and CEO T.J. Robinson. The company's streamlining effort has cut its sales by more than half since the early 1990s, to £612.4 million.
Overnight Conglomerate in the 1980s
Albert Fisher Group posted just £6.7 million for its fiscal year 1982. By 1992, the company's sales neared £1.2 billion. At the company's height in the mid-1990s, revenues had swelled to more than £1.6 billion, before unraveling at the end of the century.
The company origins traced back to 1920, when Albert Fisher incorporated his wholesale fruit and vegetable business as Albert Fisher & Son. The company changed its name to Albert Fisher Group after adding a number of other companies operating in its Lancashire region. The company extended its wholesale activity into the north and Midlands regions of England in the early 1960s, then took a listing on the Liverpool stock exchange in 1964. Albert Fisher moved its listing to the London stock exchange in 1973. By the beginning of the 1980s, the company's operations had grown to include several wholesale fruit and vegetable depots as well as distribution activities in potatoes and onions. The company also operated a fleet servicing business for its own fleet of vehicles. The small company, which posted just £6.7 million in turnover in 1982, was losing money--£29,000 for that year.
The arrival of Tony Millar as chief executive of the company in 1982 marked the beginning of a vast change in the modest Albert Fisher Group. Millar became caught up in the spirit of the times, which saw the growth of new large-scale, often globally operating conglomerate companies. The company raised £385,000 in a rights issue in 1982 and in 1983 made its first acquisition, that of Wentworth Import & Export Limited. By the end of that year, the company had more than doubled sales, while returning a profit of £327,000 for the year.
Albert Fisher followed the Wentworth acquisition with that of FJ Need (Foods) Limited, which brought the company a cheese wholesaling business. The company next added the Henry Long Group, which operated warehousing and distribution facilities, as well as a Mercedes-Benz commercial vehicle franchise. The addition of Stokes Bomford Limited, in 1984, extended the company's fruit and potatoes operations and helped boost revenues past £44 million. That same year, Albert Fisher moved into the United States, acquiring Miami-based Carnival Fruit company.
In 1985, Albert Fisher began to drift farther from its core fruits and vegetables buying, selling, processing, and distribution business. The company acquired Plane Tracking, giving it that company's Manchester-based international transport operations. The company also acquired Charles Sidney, based in Bradford, a franchise for Mercedes-Benz automobiles. Still farther afield was the company's acquisition of Ziff Company, based in Massachusetts, which brought the company into paper products marketing and distribution.
Closer to its original focus, the company acquired Curtis, Knee & Co., a frozen fruits and vegetables producer and distributor located in Hertfordshire, and Los Angeles' Coast Produce, specialized in fresh fruits and vegetables. Albert Fisher's Stokes Bomford subsidiary opened a new processing facility as the company expanded its offering of packaged fruits to the United Kingdom's supermarket chains as well as to other food processing companies.
The company's revenues topped the £100 million mark in 1986 as the company stepped up its acquisition fervor. After acquiring Apex Wholesale Produce of Los Angeles, then Tavilla Group, based in Florida, Albert Fisher's U.S. interests continued to grow, with new acquisitions including Red's Market Group and Cape Coral Produce, both in Florida. The following year, Albert Fisher added Lee Ray-Tarantino Co. of San Francisco, Scalisi Produce Company of West Palm Beach, Florida, and Pacific Produce Group, based in British Columbia.
Back in the United Kingdom, the company's acquisition of Sea Products added that company's wholesale fish and fish products distribution activity, a new area for Albert Fisher. Albert Fisher moved onto the European continent in 1987 with the purchase of Reingold, based in Rotterdam. This move was quickly complemented by the addition of Citronas Group, a Rotterdam-based fresh produce distributor, and its Pakomi onion subsidiary, and Limax, which distributed mushrooms, also in The Netherlands.
Unravelling in the 1990s
Albert Fisher continued on its aggressive acquisition drive, raising financing in part through a series of stock splits and rights issues, but also by taking on a fast-growing debt burden. Nonetheless, the company's expansion was bearing fruit, as turnover topped £248 million for 1987 and then jumped to £831 million by 1989. Among the company's acquisitions was that of State Paper, based in Maine, which was added to the Ziff Company subsidiary. Ziff Company also added Grossman Paper Company, based in New Jersey, in 1988.
Yet the majority of Albert Fisher's acquisitions remained centered around its growing foods businesses. A major acquisition came in April of 1988, when Albert Fisher acquired Mondi Foods BV, based in The Netherlands and with operations in Belgium, Germany, and Switzerland, giving it one of the largest fruit processing groups in Europe. The company's growing size placed larger and larger targets in its reach, such as its acquisition of JJM Theeuwen Beheer BV, which became known as Holco BV, of The Netherlands, in 1990, adding that leading European mushroom processor and distributor.
The company continued to extend its range of foods, adding companies such as Rowats Food Limited, a Glasgow-based processor of pickles and sauces, and then Beswicks Limited, based in Lancashire, which produced dressings and sauces. In August 1990, Albert Fisher moved into Spain and Portugal through the joint venture Albert Fisher Larios SA, working with Larios to acquire and build food products processing operations through those two countries. In December, the acquisition of Campbell's UK Vegetable Division and UK Seafood Division boosted the company's operations in both the frozen vegetable and frozen and specialty fish segments. By then, the company had exited the paper business with the sale of Ziff Company.
By 1991, Albert Fisher's sales had swelled past the £1 billion mark. Millar's leadership had led the once-tiny company to a position in the prestigious FTSE 100 list and a market capitalization of nearly £800 million. The first signs of trouble were beginning to appear, however. The company's huge debt burden, and a policy of deferring its acquisitions fees, soon caught up to its balance sheet. As the Financial Times wrote, Albert Fisher "was a classic 1980s conglomerate, built on hot air and a chain of unrelated acquisitions. Nobody had time to integrate businesses or devise a strategy."
Millar left the company and was replaced by Stephen Walls in 1992. Walls led the company on "a strategic repositioning" designed to trim the bloat from the company's heavily expanded list of operations. Albert Fisher now sought to transition from its low-margin production, commodity, and wholesaling businesses to more profitable value-added processing activities.
The company disposed of its trucking companies and sold off some of its other operations, such as Holco BV, in 1992. The company also spun off its Charles Sidney franchise in a public listing. Yet Albert Fisher remained locked on the acquisition trail, continuing to take on debt while adding to its list of subsidiaries. Some effort, however, was made to integrate its operations, such as the establishment of a new European Seafood Division in 1992. That same year, the company created its Fisher Quality Foods division through the merger of a number of subsidiary operations.
Focusing on the 21st Century
Further acquisitions helped the company extend its U.S. presence, including Reddi-Made Foods Inc., of Florida; Imperial Produce Company Inc., of Washington, DC; Fresh Western Marketing Inc., of California; and the assets, including the trademarks and customer lists, of Dallas's American Produce and Vegetable Company Inc. In 1994, Albert Fisher added the Rahbek Group, giving it operations in Denmark, as well as that company's Scotland and England fish fillet processing facilities. By 1995, the company had begun to cast its net still farther abroad, taking a 20 percent interest in Buenos Aires-based SA San Miquel, a world-leading lemon grower and processor. The company's sales reached their peak in that year, topping £1.6 billion.
Charges following the disposal of a number of businesses, including the company's North American produce distribution operation and the sale of its German and Netherlands wholesaling operations, led to Walls being replaced as chief executive by Neil England in 1996; Walls remained as chairman. The company then began talks with Chiquita Brands to be acquired by that company. The company's disappointed shareholders, who had seen the company's market capitalization enter a long downslide during the decade--bottoming out at just £38 million in 1998--now insisted on a new course of action. Both Walls and England resigned in 1998. Terry Robinson took over the CEO spot, and Hugh Ashton became chairman.
Albert Fisher now embarked on a new program of slashing its debt and reducing its number of businesses to focus exclusively on its value-added operations. The company began a long series of disposals, the proceeds of which were used to pay down the company's debt burden. One of the first businesses to go was its Fisher Quality Foods division, which gained the company £43 million from Unigate PLC. Other disposals included its River Ranch Los Angeles subsidiary, which netted close to £2 million in a management buyout, and the purchase by Carl Kuhne GmbH & Co. of Fisher Quality Foods Uyttewaal BV for £4.4 million.
By the end of the company's fiscal year 2000, Albert Fisher's sales, excluding discontinued operations, had been cut back to just £612 million. The company's newly refocused operations now emphasized its U.K. business, whereas both North American and Continental Europe operations had been cut in half in terms of sales volume. Albert Fisher had reorganized itself around three core activities, those of its U.K. value-added foods group Fisher Foods, the River Ranch Salinas U.S.A. fresh salads distributor, and a produce distribution and trading arm. Albert Fisher had, in large part, completed its disposal program by the end of 2000, and it began to look forward to rebuilding its profitability while consolidating its position as a leading U.K. and North American value-added food processing group. The company now began to look for ways to increase its operational efficiency. A step toward streamlining its ongoing operations was taken in early 2001, when the company announced its was combining its frozen vegetable processing activities into a single plant.
Principal Subsidiaries: Aartsenfruit Breda BV (Netherlands); Agricommerce SA (France); Fisher Chilled Foods Limited; Fisher Foods Ltd; Fisher Fresh Vegetables Ltd.; Fresh Western International Inc. (U.S.A.); Fresh Western Marketing Inc. (U.S.A.); Mondi Foods Belgium NV; River Ranch Fresh Foods--Salinas, Inc. (U.S.A.); SPI plc; Westminster Produce Pty (South Africa).
Principal Competitors: Chiquita Brands International Inc.; CHR CH Robinson Worldwide Inc.; Danone S.A.; Dole Food Company; Fresh Del Monte Produce Inc.; Geest Plc; Hibernia Foods; Nestlé S.A.; Northern Foods plc; S.A.; Savia, S.A. de C.V.; Sunkist Growers, Inc.; Unigate plc; Unilever; U.S.A. Floral Products, Inc.
- "Albert Fisher to Shut Grimsby Plant," Independent, February 21, 2001, p. 19.
- Gimbel, Florian, "Competition Hits Albert Fisher," Financial Times, April 27, 2001.
- Hall, Amanda, "When Will Walls Bear Fruit?," Daily Telegraph, August 22, 1997.
- Haughton, Andrew, "Recovery Strategy at Albert Fisher Is Starting to Bear Fruit," Financial Times, May 3, 2000.
- "The History of the Albert Fisher Group," Stoke Poges: Albert Fisher Group, 1999.
- Urry, Maggie, "Albert Fisher Hints at Recovery," Financial Times, October 20, 2000.
Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 41. St. James Press, 2001.