Wolds-based potato specialists acquire leading potato seed supplier

Pictured are Graham Bennett, seed director of Wolds Produce; and seed managers Stuart Fox, Andrew Johnston and Bill Quarrie

Wolds Produce Ltd, based in Pocklington near York, has completed the acquisition of WM Quarrie (Potato Marketing) Ltd, for an undisclosed sum.

Established in 2004 by Simon Tootell and local farmer Simon Foster, Wolds Produce was set up as a potato trading business offering crops from the York area to packers.

The company has grown to become a major potato supplier into the crisping, chipping, ware, and seed industries across the whole of the UK.

Over the last three years, its crisping operation has doubled in volume with its customers supplying around 80 per cent of all the crisps in the UK market – these include Walkers, Seabrook, the Tayto Group and Yorkshire Crisps.

The business has also expanded its specialist potato seed production operation with Wolds Produce known as a trusted supplier of high quality seed for commercial ware crops. As part of its growth trajectory, it last year acquired 26 per cent of WM Quarrie, run by Bill Quarrie and Stuart Fox, which over the last nine years has become a successful independent seed business.

The deal, which was negotiated by Leeds law firm Clarion’s corporate team, included a call option which Wolds Produce has now taken up with the acquisition of the remaining shareholding completing on June 29, 2021.

Managing director Simon Tootell has worked in the industry since the age of 15 having started at Higgins in his hometown of Doncaster before moving to manage the pack house at RS Cockerill in York. He said: “Back in 2013, we were supplying around 10,000 tonnes of crisping potatoes, 15,000 tonnes of free-buy ware sales, and 3,000 tonnes of seed – with a very small team.

“At that time there was still a lot of spot-market sales, but that has shifted massively over recent years with changing weather patterns making buyers move more towards the certainty of contracts.

“We, therefore, looked at where we thought the industry was heading and took the decision to specialise in areas where we could see growth opportunities, namely focussing on expanding our seed and crisping markets.”

Seed director Graham Bennett, who has been behind the growth of the seed business, said: “Following the acquisition of WM Quarrie, as well as investment in some key appointments over the last two years, in 2021 we will be supplying over 40,000 tonnes of potatoes into the crisping industry and have a seed business supplying over 15,000 tonnes, making us one of the largest independent seed suppliers in the UK.

“It’s hard to imagine that many potatoes, but it’s the equivalent of a pile about 3m high spread over 12 football pitches! The addition of two such well-known and experienced seed professionals as Bill Quarrie and Stuart Fox will give another welcome boost to our specialist team.”

Tim Foggin, finance director of Wolds Produce, said: “This acquisition marks another key step in our growth trajectory and, like many sectors, we are aware that of the need to attract new talent into our industry. We are now actively looking for up-and-coming people to join both our crisping and potato seed operations as the business continues to expand and move forward.”

The advisers to Wolds Produce on the deal included Alex Cooper of Clarion who provided legal advice; and BHP Corporate Finance which provided tax advice.

Alex Cooper said: “During these times of uncertainty, it’s refreshing to see potato specialists Wolds Produce bucking the trend and completing an exciting acquisition – we wish them well for the future.”

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