big prawn co

Big Prawn Co supplied prawn and shellfish to the supermarkets, wholesalers and foodservice operators

Sykes Seafood has rescued shellfish processor The Big Prawn Co in a pre-pack administration deal to boost its capacity and create a £447m seafood group.

Big Prawn, which supplied natural and added-value shellfish products to UK retailers, wholesalers and foodservice, appointed restructuring specialist Kroll Advisory as administrator on 27 January 2023.

The sale to Sykes saves more than 120 jobs at the Norfolk-headquartered business.

Sykes CEO Alan Dale said the two businesses shared many synergies and similarities, with the combination providing “a solid backdrop for future growth”.

He added it would also allow greater efficiencies in sourcing and an enhanced delivery platform to customers.

“Big Prawn is a business we have long admired with its strong management team, efficient production facilities and an innovative approach to product development,” Dale said.

“This is supported by strong company brands and sourcing offering a broad, quality-focused and sustainable product range to its customers. Our focus will be to invest in increased capacity in the factory and build on its strong relationships with its customer and supplier base.”

It is the latest deal for Cheshire-headquartered Sykes, following the 2020 acquisition of Dutch shrimp processor Klaas Puul and the 2021 takeover of Telford-based Ruskim Seafoods.

Sykes said the Big Prawn deal created a $550m (£447m) pan-European shrimp-focussed seafood business.

The combined businesses operate six manufacturing sites across the UK, Europe and Morocco, as well as ten distribution centres, employing more than 4,000 staff.

Big Prawn was established in 1995 and grew to service the major supermarkets and the foodservice industry. It also supplied the sustainable Big & Happy brand and launched Free From the Sea vegan alternative with Waitrose in 2022.

The company fell to a pre-tax loss of £380k in the year ended 31 May 2021 despite turnover nudging up 4.9% to £34.8m, according to the most recent accounts available at Companies House.

It had struggled with the loss of foodservice sales through the pandemic, estimating a £2.5m hit to profits in 2020/21.

An MBO at the business in late 2018 also left it with debt to service, with the accounts showing bank loans and other borrowings totalling more than £4m, with £3.4m payable within a year.

Big Prawn also lost its contract to supply Morrisons in 2021 after the supermarket brought supply in-house with the acquisition of Cornish wholesaler Falfish.

Family run Sykes can trace its history back to 1862 and today supplies the retail, wholesale and foodservice sector, operating a number of brands, including Arctic Royal and Clear Seas.