Hot Seat: Bringing Ripon firm Farmison back to life
Last updated Apr 28, 2023
Andy Clarke and Farmison.

Shortly before Christmas, Andy Clarke heard rumours all was not well at Ripon firm Farmison & Co.

Having spent a career in retail, including six years as chief executive of Asda, Mr Clarke was aware of the company’s mission to ‘eat better meat’ and innovative business model, which had attracted clients including Harrods and Fortnum & Mason.

He was approached about getting involved but was busy at the time. He adds:

“The phone went quiet for a while and then there was a bit more noise about the company being in a challenging position. When it went into administration, I decided to look in more detail.”

Farmison entered administration on April 6 — Maundy Thursday. The ensuing Easter drama ended, appropriately, with a resurrection when a consortium spearheaded by Mr Clarke acquired the business from the administrators just over two weeks later.

It prompted a collective sigh of relief in Ripon, where Farmison was one of the city’s largest and most feted employers, with almost 100 staff and numerous awards.


Farmison will stay at Bondgate Green

Some former staff, who lost their jobs when administration happened, are being rehired and new ones are being sought as Farmison prepares to recommence trading within weeks.

What possessed Mr Clarke to get involved as executive chairman? He says:

“I’ve lived in Yorkshire most of my life and I’ve always been keen to support Yorkshire businesses. I’ve a strong affection for local and Yorkshire. I was chair of Leeds Bradford Airport for nearly five years.

“When I saw what I believed to be a great brand at risk of disappearing I felt I had to have a look to see if I could help. At that point I didn’t know what help was. It soon became clear I had to find a partner and invest in it.”

From then, events moved rapidly.

“It became a race to see who was going to rescue the business. In the final throw of the dice, we were given approval by the administrators who felt our bid to take forward the business and protect jobs was the strongest.”

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The four-strong consortium also includes Gareth Whittle, the founder and former managing director of Chilli Marketing. But not Farmison co-founder John Pallagi, who was heavily involved in the race to save the company until the last minute. Mr Clarke says:

“We discussed with John what role he might play. We are still talking to John – there could be a role for him in future. He developed a great brand and his vision to ‘eat better meat’ is what attracted me.”

Mr Clarke says the immediate challenges are to refocus, manage the cost base and stabilise the business to bring it back to growth. No drastic changes to its business model are planned. He says:

“It’s fundamentally a good business that ran out of petrol because the cost base was too high.

“We are primarily a B to C supplier. That’s the primary purpose of the business and I would suggest that will be retained.”

Mr Clarke, who lives in East Yorkshire, says he’s had “brilliant support” from suppliers even though Farmison’s administration left some being owed money. He says:

“It’s sad that these businesses have lost out because of the previous company and the previous management team. We will develop a stronger business together.”

He reaffirmed Farmison’s commitment to its Bondgate Green site in Ripon by saying the consortium has assured the landlord it intends to stay. He says:

“It’s a great site. We are at the heart of the community.”

‘Eat better meat’ is Farmison’s strapline

Mr Clarke, who is also chair of Menzies Distribution and holds other senior roles, will divide his time at Farmison with his other business ventures.

Chief operating officer Michelle Kennedy is in charge of day-to-day operations, supported by commercial director Andy Cavanna and finance manager Liam Duggan.

“I add value through my experience but when it comes down to it it’s about the capability of the team to work together and get this business back to where it’s meant to be.”

Even with his long experience in retail, however, he says the Farmison acquisition has been “quite a journey”.

“I’ve driven the Ripon Road on more occasions than ever before. It’s been great. I’ve loved it. It’s a very exciting business to be involved in and we hope we can make it successful again for Ripon.”