Bakery giant St Pierre Groupe eyes ‘Holy Grail’ of making it in America after doubling headcount

A bakery giant headquartered in Manchester has set its sights on the “Holy Grail” of making it in the US after doubling its headcount in recent years.

St Pierre Groupe, which is behind the St Pierre, Baker Street and Paul Hollywood’s part-baked bread brands, saw record growth in 2020 and signed supply deals with the likes of Tesco and Sainsbury’s.

Now, in an exclusive interview with BusinessLive, chief executive David Milner outlines the group’s plans for the future including expanding into new territories and how to boost its financial results further.

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Mr Milner was responsible for driving international growth at Tyrells and progressing the Lily’s Kitchen pet food brand before becoming St Pierre Groupe’s non-executive chairman in March 2019.

Earlier this year he moved to become its new chief executive with the aim to drive its next stage of growth.

When he started the business had 40 staff, which has now jumped to 80 as the group prepares to expand further internationally.

Its sales surged to record levels in 2020, with its turnover topping £102.8m, up from £88.8m, while its pre-tax profits increased from £4.1m to £5.9m.

David Milner, CEO of St Pierre Groupe (Image: Jon Parker Lee)

Speaking to BusinessLive, Mr Milner said the decision to join the group was an easy one.

“I was introduced to Jeremy Gilboy and Paul Baker [the founders] by a banker in London who said that there was this fantastic business in Manchester and that they had not got a chairman.

“I was told that these guys had done a great job at building the business but that they might want a chairman and they would like someone who had taken a UK business and turned it into an international company before.

“I’m now called a food industry veteran which I’m not sure whether I should be upset about that!

“I drove up to Manchester and had a proper chat with Jeremy and Paul. You always buy the person, not the business, and I thought the people were fantastic and I really got on well with them.

“I thought that we could do good things and have fun at the same time.

“I liked them and luckily they liked me and it kicked on from there.”

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One of the main aims of the group is to expand its presence further into the US before then turning to new markets.

Mr Milner said: “I have been involved in food businesses for most of my career and the Holy Grail is ‘can you make it a success in America?’

“Anything that works there, works bigger and better than anywhere else. But it is also the most competitive market in the world.

“I have been trying to make that happen for my whole career but never as successfully as with this group.

“The last year and a half has been challenging for a lot of businesses but I’m pleased to say that we have continued growing both here and in the States so it is still a success but it has been hard work.

“However, I should not complain as a lot of businesses had to shut down in the last year and a half and if you’re in the food service market, it just disappeared.”

St Pierre Group

St Pierre Group’s results surged in 2020, with turnover reaching a record of more than £100m and its pre-tax profits also rising.

Asked about why that was, the CEO said: “It starts with having a superior product. I always think that if you’re in the food industry, I always like to work with someone who has a really good product because that’s a great start point.

“If you have a better product than other people and you run the business correctly, you’ll win.

“I think in the last few years we have really focused on the brand. The brand existed before I joined but under half of the turnover was the brand. By the end of this year it will be three quarters of the business.

“That has been a big change and a big part of the success.

“I think having the ambition and frankly the guts is important because Paul and Jeremy are great entrepreneurs and they could have cashed their chips in a long time ago but they have kept reinvesting and kept going again.

“We invest much more than we ever have before in branding, marketing and innovation and if you’re lucky all that leads to growth.

“I put it down ultimately to the ambition and the guts of the founders to back their product and keep going.

“You can do well regardless of the conditions around you as long as long as you have the right attitude.”

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Mr Milner said his company has a clear strategy for growth and has “invested ahead of the curve in anticipation of success”.

He added that he believes that for the next three years the group can continue to grow at its current rate just by focusing on the UK and the US.

“We are the leading brand already in brioche products in the UK and the US but we’re not in all stores yet”, he said.

“We have a whole pipeline of innovation around brioche.

(Image: PA)

“I don’t think there will be as greater growth in the number of employees percentage-wise in the next couple of years because we have made a big upfront investment and we now have to continue to grow the business to justify that investment.

“We have got some business in Asia in territories such as Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan and China, but right now it’s quite small.

“To grow out there can be done but when you have got a burgeoning business in the US, which is only in about 25% of the supermarkets you could be in, I always think the key to success is focus.

“Whilst we could set up an Asia team it is distracting and I would rather spend all the time on the team we have, focusing on successfully executing the plan that we have in the UK and the US.

“The big challenge that we have at the moment is that there are insufficient number of people working in the factories, insufficient number of people driving vehicles around and the whole worldwide infrastructure for delivery and distribution is in a tricky situation.

“Actually, the biggest risk to a business like ours is whether you can get your product to where it needs to be at the right time and in the right quantity.”

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