David Cox, CEO Symington's (3)

Source: Symington’s

David Cox joined Symington’s in 2019 to complete a turnaround process for the ambient supplier

Symington’s CEO David Cox has stepped down from the helm at the Ragu and Chicken Tonight maker following the takeover by Italian dairy and pasta group Newlat Food.

Cox has been replaced by sales director Christian Boulter and finance director Henry Breese, who will take on the role of joint CEO, reporting into Newlat executive chairman Giuseppe Mastrolia, The Grocer has learned.

Boulter joined the group in 2017 after a 10-year spell at Britvic, and Breese was appointed as FD in 2018 after spending more than four years at Mayborn Group, which is behind the Tommee Tippee baby products brand.

National account controller Conall Kelly has also been promoted to sales director.

A Symington’s spokeswoman said: “Having transitioned Symington’s into Newlat’s ownership, David felt the time was right to step down as CEO and look for a new challenge.

“We would like to take this opportunity to thank David for his contribution to the business and wish him well in the future.”

She added that Boulter and Breese would put in place “exciting” investment plans lined up for this year.

Newlat, which is best known for producing the Buitoni pasta brand, paid £53m for Symington’s in August last year to help fuel its ambitions to grow sales to €1bn across Europe.

Cox joined Symington’s as CEO in November 2019 to continue a turnaround of the ambient supplier started by predecessor John Power.

Growth at the Leeds-headquartered group stalled under the previous ownership of private equity firm ICG as consumers turned away from processed food in favour of healthier alternatives, with Symington’s slumping to a loss in 2016 as supermarkets delisted a number of its cooking sauces.

The business made further losses in 2019 as it exited licensed manufacturing agreements with Ainsley Harriott and Golden Wonder to focus on its own portfolio of brands, including Naked noodles and Mugshot.

Cox also focused on building the own-label side of the business in partnership with retailers and expanding overseas, with success for its noodles brands in the US, where it signed a distribution agreement with Walmart.

Turnover increased 4.2% to £114m in the year to 30 August 2020 thanks to renewed demand for shelf-stable products during the onset of the pandemic, returning Symington’s to profitability, with EBITDA up 17.5% to £9.6m and pre-tax profits of £2.7m.

Cox joined Symington’s after spending almost two years as MD at Fox’s Biscuits and four years at General Mills, latterly as European MD. He previously worked at Tesco as category director, initially looking after the frozen category and then dairy, and also spent 10 years at Unilever.