Morris & Son is a “problem-solving business” specialising in buying excess or unwanted stock – and more recently struggling confectionery businesses, as Beth Phillips reports

"The best-kept secret in grocery." That's how Andy Needham describes his company Morris & Son.

As a specialist residual wholesaler, Morris & Son has kept itself under the radar, discreetly buying excess or unwanted stock from some of the biggest players in grocery and selling it on to market traders and discounters. An old-fashioned fixer, if you like.

"We specialise in sorting out other people's problems," says MD Needham. "Cancelled orders, excess stock, damaged pallets, we take it all. We're a problem-solving business."

Morris & Son is unlikely to stay under the radar for much longer, however. The 35-year-old Leeds-based wholesaler has just had its most successful trading period in recent years with turnover topping £13.5m. In the past year, Needham, who became MD in 2003 following an MBI, has snapped up three businesses and in the process propelled the wholesaler into confectionery manufacturing.

The first acquisition came in the summer when one of Morris & Son's 500 account customers fell into administration. The customer owned a C&C in Manchester complete with a sweet-packing plant, which Needham took off its hands before looking for a manufacturer to complement the plant.

In November, Morris & Son swooped on Stockley's Sweets, a manufacturer of traditional confectionery such as boiled sweets, fudge, cinder toffee and Coltsfoot Rock.

A month later Morris & Son made a second acquisition, specialist sugar-free confectioner Sweet Luxuries. Together, the acquisitions add more than £3m sales, 53 staff and three new sites to the business.

Needham didn't just acquire the businesses to get into confectionery, though. Morris & Son has traditionally dealt with market traders and discounters, but the acquisitions have opened the door to new customers as diverse as Harrods and Fortnum & Mason, right through to small independent sweet shops. "They also have great management teams," says Needham.

He expects business to remain brisk in 2010. The downturn in the economic climate meant more shoppers were willing to visit discounters one of the company's key customers. But it was the demise of Woolworths that has been the real catalyst for growth
"Our customers have gained trade from Woolworths, and at least seven of our customers have opened stores in former Woolworths sites," says Needham.

However, he warns: "We are far from out of the recession. VAT reductions helped last year but there are big concerns that the next government could increase VAT further, to 20% or more. Customers are still driven by the £1 price points and if VAT increases, we'll have to buy keener or reduce margins."

Needham plans to bed down the new businesses over the next few months before hitting the acquisition trail later in the year. In the meantime, ­Morris & Son will no doubt continue to savour the sweet taste of ­success.