Portlebay popcorn range

Golden Wonder maker Tayto is hoping to tap booming appetite for popcorn after putting together a pre-pack rescue deal for premium brand Portlebay.

The popcorn manufacturer, founded in 2012 by former Burts Chips directors, appointed administrators at insolvency specialist Lameys on Wednesday (31 January) after trading slowed in 2016, The Grocer revealed this week.

Tayto and two of the founding Portlebay shareholders, Jonty White and Neil Adams, acquired the trade and assets in a pre-pack deal, saving all nine jobs at the business and giving the Northern Irish snacking group its first popcorn manufacturing site.

Portlebay Popcorn will continue to be run independently from Tayto, which has its own popcorn brand, but will benefit from the scale of the wider group, which has sales of close to £175m.

Popcorn supermarket sales in the UK have boomed more than 170% over the past six year, growing 12% in 2016 to £128.5m [52 w/e 31 December IRI].

Premium brands such as Propercorn, Tyrrells and Metcalfe’s Skinny have either secured backing from private equity or been swallowed by US food groups in 2016, with market leader Butterkist also up for sale.

Portlebay is a tiny player, with less than 1% of the market, but grew rapidly up to the end of 2015, winning nationwide listings at Tesco, Boots and WH Smith for its unusual flavours, including crispy bacon & maple syrup, wasabi and sweet ginger and cappuccino.

However, sales went into reverse last year and a number of its lines were delisted by Tesco, its major customer, in September, according to Brand View.

Tayto CEO Paul Allen said: “This is great investment for us, popcorn is a growing market and Portlebay is a great, premium product.”

“We are also delighted that all the staff, including founders Jonty White and Neil Adams, will be staying on and will continue to run the business. It is a fantastic opportunity for us to combine our many years of experience and some investment with their exuberance and innovation but, for now, we just want to provide some stability and security for both staff and customers.

“We are in the process of putting together a plan for how we are going to develop Portlebay and will be sharing that with the trade in the near future, so watch this space.”

Tayto is the biggest crisps and snack manufacturer in Northern Ireland, producing five million bags a day across its five UK sites. The group remains family-owned and its headquarters are in Co Armagh, Northern Ireland. Its portfolio includes Golden Wonder, Mr Porky, Real Crisps, Jonathan Crisp and Tayto.