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Improving, Transforming, Creating

Improving, Transforming, Creating | Mark Fairweather

Mark Fairweather

CEO of Whitworths Ltd

As CEO of Whitworths, Mark Fairweather provides clear direction, holding the business on that steady course; keeping teams engaged and focused on what is needed and calmly achieving. Fairweather is a steadfast leader who has provided consistent and clear direction while empowering his Leadership Team to create and deliver the business plan. A company “in transition” since new ownership in 2017, UK ambient food supplier, Whitworths has invested across the business to target demand for healthier snacks and meals. Where COVID has impacted and created almost a crisis point, CEOs will have had to move into that crisis management and more directive approach, and one has seen the flexibility in Fairweather as he has worked between these leadership styles.

Speaking to just-food in 2020, Fairweather said that Whitworths expected to see its sales and profitability improve in 2020, including moving to a net profit, (which the business has since achieved) Pointing to the effect Covid-19 has had on a business that generates more than 90% of its turnover through the UK grocery retail channel () but underlined how the company’s work on its product portfolio and on how it serves its customers and consumers is also paying off.

 “This year (2020) we will have a jump with Covid. That’s given us about a 10% uplift in sales but we’ve also got an uplift in sales from other activities – innovation and launches, new business won with retailers,” he says. “In 2020, if we don’t hit GBP140m, I’ll be disappointed but that’s what we’re pushing for.”

“The rise in home-baking brought about by consumers spending more time indoors has benefited Whitworths”, Fairweather says but he also seeks to underline how the company’s efforts in recent years to reshape its product range has also meant it’s been able to ride the wave of more shoppers being interested in healthier foods.

“Quite some time ago, three-plus years ago, we set about changing the face of Whitworths,” Fairweather says. “We used to do stuffing, and we used to do cornflour and multiple other SKUs that had no association with our core. This just made the business too complex, too seasonal. We decided to break our business down into core focuses of beans, pulses, and then dried fruit, nuts and seeds. We’re no longer, I would say, a bakery ingredient supply business. We used to be seen as the specialists. From a brand perspective, in excess of 80% of the use of our brand is away from bakery and home-baking. It’s about snacking, toppings, additions.”

Fairweather says one of the key areas of improvement he identified upon taking the helm was to “bring a consumer and customer focus” to the business and “to look at consumption and provide solutions, so, when we go to the retailer with innovation, we’re saying ‘This is what the consumer is looking for.’ We’re not throwing mud at the wall to see what sticks.”

The company’s launch of Protein by Nature is another addition to its plethora of achievements. “We know that products such as beans, pulses and grains meet consumer needs around highly nutritious, plant-based solutions. However, many of these ingredients are timely to prepare and difficult to make tasty food from,” explains Fairweather. “So, we went on a mission to bring these nutrient powerhouses to consumers in a convenient and super tasty manner.” Protein by Nature is quick to cook meals made with only natural plant-based ingredients. Each meal carries 20g of plant protein, and they taste fantastic with recipes inspired by the best world cuisines.

Whitworths has, Fairweather explains, “invested heavily” across the business, with improvements made in areas from innovation up through product quality to warehousing and inventory. “If customers order it, they want it. We’ve got to be able to respond to that,” he says. “Using that expertise to provide innovative, tasty, healthy products that help consumers create delicious recipes at home. Grounding all our inspiration and validation in consumer research ensures we provide the best products available. We couple that with our sourcing expertise to find amazing ingredients to use in our products.”

At the Whitworths site in Irthlingborough, the company is part-way through a redevelopment project, with a new production hall for nuts up and running and after some re-phasing of work caused by the challenges thrown up by Covid-19 – a hall for beans and pulses is still to come. “We’re fortunate. We have a massive, 22-acre site. We could work with most probably a 10-11-acre site, so we have more than enough space than we ever need but it gives us the opportunity to look at future expansion growth and how we respond to it,” he adds. “We look to thwart the competition by staying closer to the consumer and offering solutions that meet their changing needs. And we look to differentiate our business model through how we source, how we buy and how we remain committed to a safe and sustainable supply chain.”

Whitworths have repositioned their Brand to take advantage of an on-trend market, growth, and the potential for further expansion, well placed for impending legislation on health (e.g., High Fat Sugar or Salt (HFSS)). The relevant Good by Nature brand positioning and comprehensive brand portfolio, covering all key categories and consumption occasions, has delivered a strong market share with multiple platforms for growth. “For the days to come, we have a strong pipeline of innovation we are sharing with customers at the moment that will help them meet their healthier strategies and help us continue to meet our purpose of ‘helping everyone eat a little healthier everyday’,” he adds.

Mark Fairweather award

“Grounding all our inspiration and validation in consumer insight ensures we provide the best products available that meet consumer needs, coupled with our sourcing expertise to find amazing ingredients to use in our products.”

Mark Fairweather

CEO of Whitworths Ltd

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