Aga Foodservice: Broadening its horizons

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The Independent Online

Aga cookers appear to be one of the bastions of Middle England, firmly attached to the popular image of a rural idyll. One can almost see the thick winter broth bubbling on the stove, stirred by a well-heeled lady, gold bracelets jangling, waiting for her financier husband and her privately educated teenagers to return to the fold.

But Agas have a more prosaic background than this picture would suggest. A year ago the company was united with a manufacturer of metal pipes and before that it was part of a large Midlands-based metal basher, in both cases under the Glynwed International umbrella. Now renamed Aga Foodservice, it is a pure kitchenware business, selling to the consumer and the catering industry.

As such, it is also trying to broaden its horizons by marketing its ranges to a funkier crowd. It has launched a set of jazzy new colours, is developing a more city-friendly electric oven, and spending £3m on store refurbishments and a new ad campaign featuring well-dressed "Iron Age" women and men.

"We want to show that [our range] can be urban and a little more trendy. It's not purely about a country product for the older consumer," says chief executive William McGrath.

Mr McGrath's target is to increase sales of the cookers from 7,000 a year to 10,000 by 2003. The company's ambitious plans to expand in the US may have suffered a slight hitch in the current economic climate, but expansion is also taking place in Europe.

The other plan is to get Aga fans buying up complementary kitchen products. New fridges to match the cookers are being launched, while bathroom fittings, paint and tiles are provided by the company's recent acquisition, Fired Earth.

The only problem with expansion is the price tag on Aga's main product. The cookers may be owned by the likes of Bill Gates and Madonna, but at more than £5,000 apiece they could never be aimed at a wider market. But that's what Mr McGrath likes to do best. He's also branching out into setting up bakeries for supermarkets, which has proved to be a lucrative trade, and making industrial equipment for catering companies.

"It's those sort of little niche markets that we think that there's real scope for," he says.

But it's still always going to be an upper-crust trade. You might think that an Aga in a certain house in Sedgefield, County Durham would be an exception to the rule, but you'd be wrong. It's the one owned by the Prime Minister.