A family-owned food and drink wholesaler in Birmingham is eyeing expansion outside of the city region for the first time in its 51-year history amid plans to almost quadruple turnover to create a half a billion pound business by 2027.
Lioncroft Wholesale chief executive Jason Wouhra said the company was planning to open a new plant outside the West Midlands which would allow it target and win new retail and hospitality customers.
The move comes on the back of three successful years of trading and growth following the completion of a buyout deal in June 2020 which took the business back under control of the founding Wouhra family.
Mr Wouhra said: “We are just about to launch another depot outside of Birmingham – it will be our first foray outside the city in terms of business premises in our history.
“The new site will have more than 100,000 sq ft, create around 150 jobs and be a mirror image of what we have already. It will be to serve new customers in both the hospitality and retail sectors.
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“We can’t yet reveal the location but it will be in a big urban setting. When you go somewhere new, it’s just a case of understanding how your customer wants to be served.
“Once you understand that, you get their loyalty. There are a lot of headaches generally in business but you can’t be nervous about it.”
Mr Wouhra’s father Jas and his four brothers launched East End Foods in Wolverhampton in 1972 and turned it into one of West Midlands’ most successful food and drink manufacturers and wholesalers.
But in 2020, Mr Wouhra led a buyout to create a new entity, now called Lioncroft Wholesale, which supplies a range of 15,000 products such as alcohol, soft drinks, confectionery and other food to retailers from sites in Aston and Smethwick.
The manufacturing division still trades as East End Foods, selling Asian spices and ingredients from a site in West Bromwich under the continued ownership of private equity firm Exponent which bought the whole company in 2019.
Reflecting on the deal, Mr Wouhra, who runs the business with his wife Daalia and other members of his immediate family, said he knew the wholesale arm was not part of Exponent’s future plans so started the process of buying it out.
“I have always been in the wholesale industry and focussed on it so I thought why not buy back that business from Exponent which they were quite open to,” he told BusinessLive.
“From that moment onwards, it was about redefining the 50 years of heritage we had as a family. How can I do this better and improve the already very successful business?
“We have brought in people from all industries and big companies such as Weetabix and Marks & Spencer. We spent two years re-building the foundations of the business such as investing a lot more in digital.
“It needed a new energy – it was already successful in any case but, having run the business for many years, I knew there was an opportunity to ramp it up a bit more.”
Since the buyout, the company has added a further 80 staff to the payroll, taking it to 210 employees, while the next goal is to increase annual revenue from the £130 million it was in 2020 to £500 million by around 2027.
Management is also actively looking for acquisition opportunities while a dedicated arm serving the hospitality sector has been launched.
That division now supplies a host of venues across the city including Jewellery Quarter bar The Rolling Mill, Tom Cruise’s favourite curry house Asha’s and Edgbaston cricket stadium where fans watching last month’s Ashes enjoyed some Lioncroft produce.
“Historically, our wholesale business was dealing with around 8,000 retail stores with 30,000 distribution points,” Mr Wouhra concluded.
“The hospitality side is a new element, a completely different arena from where we were before.
“I started to supply Edgbaston stadium and various bars, clubs and restaurants around the Midlands and beyond and we have actually gained a lot of traction. Hospitality is a very service-led industry whereas the retail people come to us. We felt a bit like a start up again, we had to go out there to win business.”
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