Happy Egg co

Michael Kent has taken on the day-to-day running of Noble Foods once again in a restructure that will see CEO Andrew Cracknell leave the business, The Grocer understands.

Former ABP director Cracknell has been at the helm of the own-label and branded egg giant since January 2014, when he was brought in to replace Peter Thornton after the former CEO stepped down.

Cracknell was tasked with stabilising the Tring-based business, which had endured a turbulent 12 months following a failed attempt by co-owners Kent and Peter Dean to sell up for a reported £400m, the departure of its biggest egg supplier LJ Fairburn and the loss of a major Sainsbury’s contract.

An industry source said the failed sale process was not only a distraction but had given away important information that customers and suppliers had used against them.

The latest accounts to October 2014 showed sales down 10.6% to £577m, with profits falling 30% to £20m.

Noble is now understood to be on a more sound footing, with improved customer relationships resulting in a new five-year deal with Tesco, linked to a new feed-linked pricing mechanism for its suppliers that will run until February 2019.

The source said Kent, who took a back seat when Peter Thornton was appointed in 2009 to the CEO role, wanted a more hands-on role again now that the prospect of a sale had receded.

The restructure will see all divisional MDs reporting directly to Kent, with Cracknell leaving the business. As part of the restructure, Gü MD Dale Burnett will take up the position of CEO for Gu & Didier’s Patisserie, with Sara Gibbins, managing director for Didier’s, reporting directly to him.

Important strategic change

In a statement issued last night (16 September), Kent described the restructure as an “important strategic change” for the group.

“Divisional managing directors will assume not just day-to-day operational management of their respective businesses but also take on greater responsibility for their division, increasing their participation in strategic decision making and accountability for profit performance. Each managing director will report directly to me,” he said.

“Centrally we are reducing the whole resource to focus on those areas that directly benefit from a cohesive approach, namely Finance, HR, HSE, IT and Business Strategy. Jamie Roberts will assume responsibility for these areas in his role as group finance & strategy director and will report to me.”

By “adopting a least cost structure”, Noble would be able to enter into an “even greater phase of development”, he added, thanking Cracknell for the “important changes” he made during his tenure.

Cracknell is not the only senior executive to have left Noble Foods in recent years. As well as Peter Thornton (described by the source as “a brilliant operator”) chief financial officer Stuart Low has moved on. The promotion of Burnett, previously MD of the shell egg division, had also left a gap, he added.

As well as Gü (acquired in 2010) Noble’s brands include The Happy Egg Co. Since the sale was abandoned, Noble has also successfully set up The Happy Egg Co in the US, run by David Wagstaff. This business was already reporting directly into Kent, The Grocer understands.

Kent, who is worth £210m, according to The Sunday Times Rich List 2015, established Noble Foods in 2006 following a merger between his Stonegate operation and Deans Food Group in 2006. A Competition Commission enquiry subsequently ruled that the Stonegate business had to be sold off.