Heavy lies the crown: Princes Foods

Princes Foods came to dominate the tinned lobster trade. Today its brands include Napolina, Jucee, Batchelors and Crisp N Dry.

William Muirhead Simpson (born 1842) was born to Scottish-born bakers in Liverpool.

By 1872 he was in partnership with Francis George Carvill as merchants of Liverpool. Simpson left Francis Carvill & Son in 1878. The move proved fortuitous, as the firm collapsed with debts of £300,000 in 1883.

William Muirhead Simpson
William Muirhead Simpson (born 1842)

Simpson entered into partnership with Frank Roberts (1853 – 1938), a native of New Brunswick, in 1880. T E Dickinson became the first employee. Simpson & Roberts began to import tinned lobster into Britain. Roberts managed operations in Halifax, Canada, while Simpson managed the head office at 20 Redcross Street, Liverpool.

Frank Roberts
Frank Roberts (1853 – 1938)

Originally the company sold its products under the Simpson Roberts name, but in 1891 the Maypole brand was introduced for tinned lobster. In 1895 the Mikado name was introduced for tinned meats and fish. In 1900 the Princes name was introduced.

In 1902 the firm established operations in Vancouver to produce tinned salmon.

In 1907 William Muirhead Simpson retired from the partnership, leaving Frank Roberts, David Thomson and Henry Pythian Simpson to manage the business. At this juncture, Frank Roberts relocated to Liverpool to manage operations from there.

By 1910 the firm had relocated to 46 Stanley Street, Liverpool.

By 1915 Simpson Roberts & Co was the largest exporter of lobsters in the world, and handled one third of the world’s output from sites at Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island; Shediac, New Brunswick; St John’s, Newfoundland and Vancouver.

The partnership became an incorporated company in 1919. T E Dickinson became chairman.

Vancouver became the Canadian headquarters from 1920.

In 1929 company capital was reduced from £250,000 to £212,000.

By 1936 there were 21 Princes product lines. That year a larger warehouse and distribution centre had to be built to cope with demand. Across six floors, it was one of the most up to date canned goods warehouses in Britain.

Frank Roberts died in 1938 with an estate of £142,141.

Simpson & Roberts capital was increased to £500,000 in 1958. By this time canned fruit had joined canned fish as a major product line. That year, tinned foods sales increased by 17 percent, whilst Princes branded foods increased by 30 percent.

The company changed its name to Princes Foods in 1962.

J Bibby & Sons, a Liverpool shipping firm which owned Trex cooking fat and a line of sandwich spreads, acquired Princes for £3.25 million in 1968.

The integration of the two businesses proved more difficult than expected, and after Bibby entered financial difficulty it sold Princes to Buitoni of Italy in 1973.

Under Buitoni, canned imported vegetables and corned beef were added to the Princes product range.

Buitoni was acquired by Nestle of Switzerland in 1988, who sold Princes to Mitsubishi of Japan the following year.

By 1989 Princes had 25 percent of the British canned fish and cold meats markets. A factory in Southport, Lancashire employed about 200 people.

Mitsubishi provided global presence and extensive financial capital for Princes. In 1991 Princes entered soft drink production with the acquisition of G Barraclough.

Princes was Britain’s leader in corned beef by 1997.

Princes acquired a fish cannery on the island of Mauritius in 1999.

Princes acquired control of Beta Foods, manufacturer of Shippams fish paste, in 2001.

Princes employed 3,200 people by 2010.

Princes acquired the canning operations of Premier Foods for £182 million in 2011.

Princes was the largest supplier of tinned food in Britain by 2013. The company employed 6,000 people across 14 production sites. 20 percent of sales were overseas.

Princes extended its shareholding in the Napolina Italian foods brand from 76 to 100 percent in 2014.


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