Weetabix shone Brightest in a big year for big deal

As we revealed in our annual Britain’s Biggest Brands supplement in March, the number of truly British brands has significantly dwindled in recent years with just 44 out of the UK’s biggest 150 grocery brands now under UK ownership.

The trend continued apace throughout 2012 with German dairy giant Müller snapping up Robert Wiseman, German food group Zertus acquiring Zetar and India Hospitality Corp buying Adelie Food Holdings. No British brand was sacred, Japanese vinegar manufacturer Mizkan snaffling a number of brands from Premier Foods, including store cupboard favourite Branston Pickle.

But this coup was dwarfed by giant Chinese food group Bright Food, which announced in November that it had completed the £1.2bn takeover of Weetabix, a deal first mooted in May. The company intends to continue to grow the brand’s sales in the UK, but also wants to tap into the rapidly growing demand for western products amongst Chinese consumers.

Foreign buyers didn’t have it all their own way though. There was the Booker-Makro deal, the Britvic and AG Barr merger and The Co-op’s £750m purchase of 632 Lloyds Bank branches, which one banking analyst described as the “bargain of the century”.

Simon Creasey


Preachy Heston smugs it up for Waitrose non-ad

Just when you thought Heston couldn’t get any smugger, he went and told us why Waitrose weren’t forking out on a fancy Christmas ad in 2012. They gave the money to charity instead. Ahh.

The irony of Waitrose creating an ad to tell us why they weren’t going to make a festive ad wasn’t lost on many, but the £1m it donated to good causes is certainly not to be sniffed at.

If only Asda had done the same. It would have spared us a toe-curlingly schmaltzy (and some said sexist) ad. And it wouldn’t have found itself being reported by dozens to the ASA for the stone age values it portrayed.

Rob Brown


Revealed by The Grocer: Foley to return to Iceland

Paul Foley’s abrupt departure from Aldi in 2009 sent shockwaves through an industry that had seen his tenure as MD as both successful and secure - and speculation over his next move swiftly reached fever pitch.

However, all went quiet on the Foley front (bar the odd management consultancy role) until September, when The Grocer broke the story that he’d be making a sensational return to Iceland Foods - where he’d worked as a regional manager for 12 years before joining Aldi in 1989.

What prompted the surprise return to his roots? Iceland’s chairman and founder Malcolm Walker admitted it had “not been easy to persuade him to come back”. But the lure of overseeing the transformation of Iceland into a global brand had been impossible to resist.

Foley has been appointed to the new role of international business director, with a brief to “grow the Iceland brand throughout the world” - including Iceland where it opened a franchise operation in August.

Foley, who described Iceland (the retailer) as a “special place to work” at the time of his appointment in September, starts full-time in his new role this month.

James Halliwell


Speculation dashed as Costcutter stalls on Nisa decision

Will they? Won’t they? After years of mulling over whether or not to extend its distribution deal with Nisa beyond 2014, it seemed Costcutter had finally made up its mind, ending one of the industry’s longest-running sagas.

It looked like the wait was nearing an end after CEO Nick Ivel said the decision would at last be announced at Costcutter’s annual bash in September. Cue a summer of frenzied speculation, which saw members fed up with the wait jumping ship to other symbol groups, and even a talk of a bid for Costcutter from Morrisons.

But with just two weeks to go, Ivel abruptly left the business and former Starbucks CEO Darcy Willson-Rymer was drafted in as the new boss. Predictably, Willson-Rymer’s first decision was to not make a decision.”I don’t know when we will be ready to talk about it,” he told members. This year, next year, sometime, never?

Beth Phillips


Tesco’s first UK virtual supermarket takes off at Gatwick

No one wants to think about coming home when they’re off on their holidays… do they?

Tesco seems to think they do. In August, it set up its first British virtual supermarket, at Gatwick Airport of all places. The hope was that bored holidaymakers would want to do a spot of shopping as they waited for their flights. Ten screens were placed in the airport’s departure lounge, allowing shoppers to browse popular items and fill virtual shopping baskets on their smartphones. Their orders would then be delivered shortly after their return from holiday.

First trialled in the subways of Seoul by Tesco’s South Korean arm Home Plus in 2011, Tesco says virtual stores will become a more common sight in grocery. Tesco said the Gatwick trial resulted in a significant peak of m-commerce activity at Tesco.com, although cynics would argue it was far more effective at generating PR than sales.

Rob Brown