Jonathan Warburton will be taking a more hands-on approach at the bakery brand

Warburtons chairman Jonathan Warburton is back at the helm of Britain’s biggest bakery brand, with MD Neil Campbell leaving the business after nine years in charge.

Warburtons declined to explain the precise reasoning behind the change at the top, but The Grocer understands the family had concerns about how the business was being managed through the current inflationary environment.

The bakery sector has been particularly hard hit by rocketing input cost inflation as the price of gas, electricity, fuel, labour packaging, oils and wheat all soar.

Industry insiders said there were differences of opinion in the direction Warburtons should be taking and concerns operational challenges were not being met.

Warburton told The Grocer: “We just felt we needed a change. We’re in new and very challenging times and felt as a board and as shareholders that we needed a fresh set of eyes.

“We would like to thank Neil for his commitment and leadership of our family business over the last nine years and wish him all the very best for the future.”

Warburton explained that he would run the business for “the foreseeable future”, with the “full support” of cousins Brett and Ross. “We will consider our options in the new year,” he added. 

Jonathan, Brett and Ross are part of the fifth generation at the family bakery, taking control in 1991 following the retirement of their fathers.

Over the next decade Jonathan held the role of joint MD and commercial director, while Brett took over as MD in 2001. He led the brand until 2006 when Robert Higginson, who was finance director at the time, took charge and spent the next seven years in the MD role.

Campbell was appointed in 2013 from PepsiCo, where he was president of Tropicana Beverages’ North American business.

Since moving to Warburtons Campbell has overseen strong growth and successful expansion into non-bread products such as crumpets, pitta, bagels and thins, and has also helped pioneer clever joint ventures with own-label bakeries to secure exclusive contracts with the likes of Tesco, the Co-op and Iceland. 

He also played a key role in the strong delivery Warburtons maintained in the pandemic, with Warburtons ranked second in the Advantage Survey last year. 

Warburton, who was this year’s recipient of The Grocer Cup, outlined in a video interview with Adam Leyland, The Grocer’s editor-in-chief, his vision for the future of the business, and his thinking around succession planning. 

“From a personal perspective, our 150th anniversary is 2026, so I’ve committed to staying until then,” he said.

“At the moment we have two of the next generation – Brett’s daughter Megan and Ross’s son Jimmy – just starting in the business with differing roles, and my twin boys, Harry and Jack, all being well, will be in this time next year.

“They need the business in the most fighting-fit shape it can possibly be in the next two to three years, so that is the major focus for all of us, and they need as much time as possible to get up to speed to understand how the business works and where the opportunities lie. We desperately want it to remain a private family business. You can only plan so far ahead.”

Companies House accounts for the year ended 25 September 2021 filed in July showed revenues at the group increased 2.1% to £567.9m despite the long-term decline in the core bread market, as the brand held on to big gains made throughout the pandemic.

However, margins were squeezed in the year as the business incurred extra costs from additional staffing and driver shortages through the pandemic, as well as the early stages of commodity inflation, with operating profits falling almost £2m to £22.4m.