THE new owner of famous snowballs, tea cakes, and meringues baker Lees of Scotland has outlined investment plans to safeguard the future of the long-established food company – one year on from its acquisition.

Lees, which was established in 1931, is now part of the Finsbury Food group, following the £5.7 million purchase of the Coatbridge-based company in January 2023. The deal came around 11 years after Scottish businessman Clive Miquel led the £5.6m management buyout of Lees, which employs 230 people at its 80,000 square feet site in North Lanarkshire, in 2012.

Finsbury, which incorporates other Scottish bakeries Lightbody in Hamilton, and Johnstone’s in East Kilbride, was itself then acquired by Isle of Man asset management firm DBAY Advisors in September.

Speaking one year on from Finsbury’s acquisition of Lees, Daryl Newlands, head of brands at the food group, told The Herald the Scottish baker was now “firmly” integrated into its new parent group, with its IT systems and support structures having successfully combined.

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Mr Newlands said: “The integration between Finsbury and Lees of Scotland has been successful, with minimal disruption to the Lees team. Ensuring a smooth transition was crucial, and we prioritised making the Lees team feel welcome and part of the Finsbury family from the start.

“Lees is a remarkable business, known for its high-quality products like snowballs, tea cakes, and dessert meringues, both under its own brand and retailer own labels. Now that Lees is firmly integrated into the Finsbury family, the focus can shift towards supporting the growth and development of the Lees site. This next phase presents exciting opportunities for collaboration within the Finsbury network.”

The latest accounts available for Lees prior to its acquisition by Finsbury show that the company turned over £20.9m in the year ended 2022, up from £16.4m the year prior.

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Asked how Lees had performed in 2023 and what the outlook holds for the year ahead, Mr Newlands replied: “Lees has continued to deliver strong performance throughout 2023, and we’re positive we’ll carry this success on into 2024.

“We have numerous projects in the pipeline to further enhance the brand's offering and market presence. We’ve been reviewing product quality, packaging design, and pack formats to ensure that Lees products not only meet but exceed customer expectations. From our findings, we’ll be launching a new approach this year, taking the opportunity to refine and perfect our products and ensure a successful rollout.

“Continued investment in product innovation and brand development reflects our dedication to driving sustained growth and maintaining competitive advantage in the marketplace. Our strategic vision for the Lees brand is driving positive change and paving the way for continued success in the future.”

Mr Newlands acknowledged that, in common with firms across the food industry, Lees was continuing to battle a high cost of doing business, which has yet to show any notable sign of easing.

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He said: “The food industry has been grappling with market inflation, posing challenges for businesses including ours. Despite our efforts, we've been impacted by this ongoing challenge. While there has been some softening in market inflation, it hasn't reached deflation levels. Certain segments of the commodity market are still fluctuating, indicating potential challenges for this year.”

Notwithstanding the current challenges, Mr Newlands remains excited about the future of the Scottish baker, which supplies its products to major UK grocers. He declared: “It’s been a year since we acquired Lees of Scotland, which has gone so quickly, especially when there are so many exciting developments and changes happening across the brand.

“Looking ahead, it's clear that there's a great deal of optimism and enthusiasm about the future of the Lees. The direction set for the group overall, coupled with the potential for growth and innovation within the Lees brand, bodes well for continued success and expansion in the years to come.”