UK-based Meatsnacks Group has sold to the owner of a rival jerky and biltong supplier. Dean Best catches up with Meatsnacks MD James Newitt to discuss the future for the company.

Australia-based entrepreneur Tony Quinn has taken a bigger chunk of the UK’s meat snacks market.

Through his investment vehicle AZQ Investments, Quinn, already the owner of the Kings brand of jerky, biltong and other protein snacks sold across the UK, has snapped up Meatsnacks Group, home to the Wild West and Cruga brands.

The deal, struck for an undisclosed sum, comes seven months after Quinn, a Scotsman who moved to Australia in his twenties, acquired Kings owner New World Foods, a business based in New South Wales that is also the owner of local beef jerky brands such as Mariani and Local Legends.

The move for Meatsnacks Group gives Quinn two of the three big brands in the growing UK market for beef jerky, with Wild West becoming a stablemate of Kings and, on the face of it, presenting a formidable competitor to Jack Link’s.

The transaction also means Meatsnacks Group managing director James Newitt has sold ownership of a business he built through organic growth and M&A, notably through the 2015 deal that brought together The Jerky Group and Cruga. Newitt is staying on, taking on the role of CEO of the combined assets of Meatsnacks Group and New World Foods (Europe) – the business that had housed Kings.

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“For some time, we’ve been looking at ways we can get investment in the business to move it forward and, when Tony Quinn approached me back in December of last year, we looked at the options and … it was the right thing for me at the right time,” Newitt tells just-food today (9 April). It felt for me a deal that really I couldn’t refuse. It looked really attractive to move forward.”

Meatsnacks Group, based in Milton Keynes, north of London, markets brands including Wild West jerky and Cruga biltong. In the UK and Ireland, the company also manufactures and distributes jerky products under the Men’s Health brand in partnership with the US-based consumer magazine of the same name. It also makes jerky products under private-label contracts for retailers such as Marks and Spencer in the UK and Lidl in Europe. Outside the UK, Meatsnacks Group exports to more than 25 countries and Newitt suggests it is international expansion that was a central reason for the sale to Quinn.

“Tony is a Scottish entrepreneur that moved to Australia at the age of 23, is a self-made multi-millionaire that has taken a lot of businesses forward and has particularly done quite a lot in the confectionery and chocolate businesses in Australia and around the world. He was kind of a good fit and gave me the investment I needed to really get Meatsnacks in a better place, as far as moving it to the next level – so getting more international expansion,” Newitt explains. “He ticks all the boxes for me.”

Newitt says New World Foods is “the largest manufacturer in Australia of beef jerky” and points to the presence the company has secured in Asia, a region he believes could be fruitful for Meatsnacks Group’s salmon jerky products, which the company launched in 2017.

“They already have acquired expertise [in] and access [to] international markets that we can now take Wild West and Cruga into. Tony’s already … a big supplier into Costco in Asia. It gives us access to Asian markets, which is quite exciting for example for our salmon jerky lines. [There are] some really good synergies, increasing distribution because of Tony’s connections in Asia. It’s really good for us.”

The most recent set of accounts available for Meatsnacks Group at Companies House cover the year to 31 July 2017. They show sales in that year reached just under GBP13m (US$17m), versus GBP12m for the previous 12 months. The company cited “market pressures” for a decline in operating profit from GBP490,697 to GBP357,758. The business made a loss of GBP80,055 – compared to a profit of GBP276,347 – as it lapped a year when it booked more than GBP350,000 “profit on sale of operation”.

Newitt says the deal will “essentially double the size of the business”. Discussing the rationale for the transaction, Newitt also gives he an indication of the benefits he believes the deal could bring the combined business in its home market of the UK. Newitt says the beef jerky in the UK remains in “good growth, it’s in double-digit growth” but adds: “There’s a lot of competition for space in the snacking area. [With] the rationalisation process going on in the grocery sector, particularly across all ranges and brands and own label, consolidation of brands is inevitable. We need to make sure we’ve got the right brands in the right places.”

“Developing strategy around our brand portfolio” and “putting together a really robust team, particularly for international expansion” are put forward by Newitt when asked what his priorities will be in his new role. Charlie Simpson-Daniel, one of the founders of the Kings Elite Snacks business acquired by New World Foods (and, subsequently, by Quinn last August) continues to have a role within the business. “Charlie’s heading up the Kings brand and doing a great job. He’s supporting and looking after major grocery accounts.” Alan Craig, one of Newitt’s fellow shareholders at Meatsnacks Group and an executive director, is to oversee operations in Scotland.

Newitt says he’s “hugely enthused” about the future. “Having sold the business, I do remain as passionate and excited about the prospects. It’s just great to have an entrepreneur of Tony’s spirit to be able to support and back me and that’s what he’s doing.”