Made in Britain Part four: Food and drink

Dorset Cereals: Changing the world, one breakfast bowl at a time

 

On the edge of the quiet, perfectly laid-out town of Poundbury – Prince Charles' vision of what a town should be like – is a purpose-built barn filled with the best British oats, spelt and wheat flakes money can buy.

Click HERE to view graphic

Over a fast-moving conveyor belt, eagle-eyed workers in peach overalls and red hair nets sift out rogue stones, raisin stalks and nut husks.

The raw ingredients, including cherries, berries and almonds, have already been X-rayed to make sure no tooth-breaking items make it into your cereal bowl. But for Dorset Cereals, the X-ray machines aren't enough. The dedication to making perfect muesli matches the attention to detail of Prince Charles' model urban village.

Perhaps that is why the heir to the throne chose Dorset Cereals to build its factory there. One of his favoured designers, Leon Krier, even oversaw the construction of the barn.

Dorset Cereals has been based in Poundbury since 2000, and with a steady rise in sales it is eyeing more than just filling Britain's breakfast bowls these days.

James Skidmore, the managing director, is about to set off on a trip to China to sell the product. He already has customers everywhere from the Middle East to California. Exports now make up more than 10 per cent of the business.

"The UK market has been tough so we decided to look at alternative markets," says Skidmore. "From 2006, when there were no exports, we now have a £5m international business selling into 70 countries."

You can't blame him for jumping on a plane for a bit more excitement. Poundbury itself is extremely quiet. Fed up with modern architecture, the Prince of Wales decided to create an integrated community of shops and businesses and a mix of private and social housing.

It might not be to everybody's taste, but 23 of its residents are employed by Dorset Cereals, meaning just a short walk to work each morning. The rest of its 130-strong workforce – predominantly factory workers – travel from neighbouring towns including Weymouth, seven miles away.

Being made in Britain has been a huge selling point for the brand. As well as being mixed and packed in Dorset, about 80 per cent of the ingredients are also sourced in the UK.

In fact, Skidmore, a former commercial director at Kerry Foods, can barely find fault with manufacturing in Britain. He explains: "Stability in currency would help our issues but generally there are no real barriers to us in place and the industry gets good government support."

The factory might be a vision of British success, but notices on the walls, written in English and Polish, are a reminder of its place in the European Union. Dorset Cereals has even stepped in here to help. It provides English courses on the premises for any workers who wants to learn – in their own time, of course.

The food and drink sector doesn't grab many headlines – except when Cadbury is getting taken over – but it employs more than 400,000 people. In Dorset, jobs are hard to come by, so a steady job – skilled or unskilled – in a cereal factory is in demand.

The staff's efforts mean that little Dorset Cereals is vying head-to-head with the muesli giant Alpen. But both brands have the same goal in mind: to alter the world's breakfasting habits for their own ends. To bring a switch from rice, congee, dim sum or noodles in China, or lavash bread and feta cheese in the Middle East, to a bowl of cereal with milk.

In China, where Skidmore is in the early stages of finding a partner, Dorset's "foreign credentials" could be to its advantage.

He explains: "Some have said there are issues with imitation and in many categories the local brand might be the one that the consumers will buy. But in food there have been many food scares with local brands. We are now seeing that international brands are more popular as they are not tainted with former food scandals."

Chinese investors have spotted the market for cereals in China. Last month China's Bright Foods bought a controlling 60 per cent stake in Weetabix, whose brands also include Alpen and Ready Brek. Bright Foods' investment valued the group at £1.2bn.

Elsewhere in the world, the company targets the right markets with the right products. In the US, granola is by far the most popular cereal, with muesli a much smaller category. Dorset Cereals makes sure its granola – baked in an oven down the road from Poundbury – is shipped out across the pond more frequently than muesli. For the batches going off to the Middle East, packaging is in Arabic.

Dorset Cereals has already come a long way from its humble beginnings in 1989 when it was founded by Terry Crabb as an alternative to the "rabbit food" options on the market. Dorset Cereals still carefully mixes its oats and flakes to make sure there isn't too much dust – the powdery dregs found at the bottom of many muesli boxes – and includes more fruit and nuts than some rival products.

The brand is now part of the Wellness Foods group of the Irish horseracing tycoons JP McManus and John Magnier which also includes the Oxfordshire-based Rowse Honey.

British-made fare appears to be in demand – accounts filed at Companies House this month show the company's turnover is up 2.9 per cent to £221.6m for the year to the end of December, compared with £215.4m last year. But operating profit for the group is up 90.2 per cent to £7.8m from £4.1m.

Skidmore is now overseeing the next phase of the brand's growth. He says: "It was the archetypal start-up business by one individual. It was a nice proposition but it was not a sophisticated business. In 2006, for it to take off and for it to challenge the rules of the sector, it had to change.

"The key was to highlight the premium recipe and the quality ingredients. Now we are more than muesli – we have granola, porridges and cereal bars. It was really a classic brand re-launch."

But just as the brand got bigger, others started to get into the market too. Skidmore says he isn't worried.

"Whenever you innovate you get competitors copying you. It is a form of flattery. But where others might have tried to copy the box or design they couldn't compete on taste," he says.

The biggest worry might not even be the competition. Rampant inflation has driven muesli ingredients up more than 56 per cent in price over the past three years. At between £2.79 and £3.99 a box, Dorset Cereals is already a luxury. But will consumers want to part with more and more money to have a good breakfast?

For now, from a sleepy corner of Dorset, it forms a small part of Britain's resurgent manufacturing sector. Just the sort of thing that Prince Charles would proudly tuck into.

Food for thought: Muesli munchers

Middle Easterners might not spring to mind as obvious fans of muesli, but Dorset Cereals has carved out a customer base in the region. It began talks in 1993 with a distribution partner in the region and started selling in Dubai in 1994. Now it distributes cereals and snack bars across the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, as well as stocking with British companies that operate in the region such as Waitrose.

James Skidmore says the demographic in the Middle East is similar to the UK, with "higher income customers" buying its premium-priced boxes. And it isn't just ex-pats that are fans. Skidmore says the brand is selling across the population of higher earners. The traditional Middle Eastern breakfast of lavash bread is being swapped for a bowl of cereal.

"Being a British brand is a big selling point, but we don't overdo it with Union flags and marketing. We just stand for good quality produce," Skidmore says.

Dorset Cereals isn't alone in exporting to the Middle East. Saudi Arabia is one of the biggest growth markets for the UK's food and drink manufacturers. In 2011 exports to the country grew by 14.4 per cent, with sauces and condiments up 29 per cent.

Tomorrow - part five: How Britain's defence industry graduated from guns to gadgets

News
people
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Keys to success: Andrew and Julian Lloyd Webber
arts + entsMrs Bach had too many kids to write the great man's music, says Julian Lloyd Webber
Voices
Left: An illustration of the original Jim Crowe, played by TD Rice Right: A Couple dressed as Ray and Janay Rice
voices

By performing as African Americans or Indians, white people get to play act a kind of 'imaginary liberation', writes Michael Mark Cohen

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Hand out press photograph/film still from the movie Mad Max Fury Road (Downloaded from the Warner Bro's media site/Jasin Boland/© 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)
films'You have to try everything and it’s all a process of elimination, but ultimately you find your path'
Arts and Entertainment
Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter films
books

New essay by JK Rowling went live on Pottermore site this morning

News
Russia Today’s new UK channel began broadcasting yesterday. Discussions so far have included why Britons see Russia as ‘the bad guy’
news

New UK station Russia Today gives a very bizarre view of Britain

News
people

Top Gear presenter is no stranger to foot-in-mouth controversy

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch at the premiere of The Imitation Game at the BFI London Film Festival
filmsKeira Knightley tried to miss The Imitation Game premiere to watch Bake Off
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

The benefits of Recruitment at SThree...

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Comission: SThree: SThree, International Recruitme...

Trainee Recruitment Consultants

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35K: SThree: We consistently strive to be the...

Finance Assistant - Part time - 9 month FTC

£20000 - £23250 Per Annum pro rata: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Pro rata ...

Marketing Manager

£40 - 48k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Manager to join...

Day In a Page

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes