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Findus horse meat scandal: a company whose reputation is changed forever

Founded in Sweden in 1905, the company may struggle to recover from the revelation that its 'beef' lasagne was largely horse meat

The various slogans employed by frozen food manufacturer Findus in the 107 years since it was founded were starting to look a little jaded this evening. The website proclaimed “Good Food Made Findusly Simple!”, an update on the previously ubiquitous “You can taste the trouble they take”. On Twitter this evening, some are suggesting “You can taste the trouble they make” would have been more appropriate.

The company, who have announced that their ‘beef’ lasagnes were “up to 100 per cent” horsemeat, was founded in 1905 in the tiny, southern Swedish town of Bjuv. Originally called Skånska Fruktin & Likörfabriken, it updated its name to Findus after it was bought by the confectionery company Freja Marabou in 1941. Four years later it launched frozen foods in Sweden for the first time, and in 1958 it began aggressively exporting in international markets for the first time, including Britain.

The company, bought by Nestle in 1962, adopted the celebrated ‘Findus Flag’ as its logo in 1971 and launched its popular Lean Cuisine brand in 1987. It was bought by Lion Capital, a consumer-focused private equity firm, for £1.1bn in 2008 but struggled during the recession as conditions for food manufacturers worsened sharply across Europe. Forced to refinance last year, it converted £240m of mezzanine debt into equity. At the end of December, Findus had net debt of £683.5m and equity of £440m.

Last month the company stole a march on its great rival Iglo, manufacturers of Birds Eye fish fingers, when it poached James Hill, chairman of Unilever’s €1.2bn turnover Italian business, to be CEO. He is due to start his new role on April 1st, succeeding Chris Britton, who was CEO from June 2009 and quit the top job in December.

Mr Britton may raise a wry smile this evening. On the website of parent company Findus Group, a banner declared the company “one of the most well-known and trusted European food brands” until 20.45.

For now, only one half of that assertion seems true.