Glisten revels in niche position

Related tags Confectionery

In just two years, the UK's Glisten group has garnered a
substantial share of the confectionery market by supplying most of
the country's leading retailers with an increasing range of niche
products, from chocolate buttons to popcorn. But as Chris
Jones discovered, growing the business further will mean an
even tighter focus on these niches.

Created in October 2001 to "build a food manufacturing group focusing on niche sectors"​, Glisten​'s first acquisition was Glisten Confectionery in June 2002, and since then the group has added a number of bolt-on acquisitions including Sunya, F. Fravigar and House of York, giving it healthy positions in markets as diverse as chocolate-coated raisins, edible decorations, sugar-coated almonds, popcorn and jelly beans.

Although the company has a number of brands (including its own Glisten name and House of York), retailers' own labels are the core of its business, and much of the initial work for the fast-growing company has involved improving relations with the leading British retailers.

"Major retail chains account for around 30 per cent of our business,"​ chief executive Paul Simmonds told​, "but with the company growing so fast we have had to work hard at 'filling in the gaps' with many of them. We are now in a position where we can offer all of our product range to all of our major customers, a good position on which to grow."

And growth has certainly been forthcoming, as the company's latest set of results clearly show. Pre-tax, pre-exceptional profits for the year to 30 June were up 32 per cent at £1.8 million, on the back of sales ahead 33 per cent at £20.8 million, and Simmonds said that growth in the first two months of the new year was running at more than 14 per cent.

Glisten's performance over the last two years is clear evidence that a growing business need not be a big one - and Simmonds and the rest of the Glisten management team are quite happy to keep things that way.

"We are a tiny player in the context of the market as a whole, so focusing on our niche capabilities is the best way to go,"​ he said. "We are not a chocolate bar maker, and we never will be, and our focus will remain on growing value rather than volume. Many companies in the food industry in general, let alone in the confectionery sector, have gone for scale. Glisten is the antithesis of scale."

This does not mean, of course, that the company does not want to grow, simply that growth will come in a number of areas.

"Foodservice, for example, is becoming a very important sector for us, especially as it is a relatively underdeveloped market, in terms of the number of confectionery companies supplying it, and what they are supplying it with. Yet some of the leading foodservice companies in the UK are at least as important within their sector as, say, Tesco is in the retail sector,"​ Simmonds said.

The diverse range of products sought by the foodservice sector makes it an interesting market for Glisten. Simmonds said that a number of its chocolate ingredients were being used as toppings by restaurant chains with serve-yourself ice cream bars, while others had come to Glisten looking for a company with the capacity to "individually wrap the humble mint imperial or chocolate button,"​ allowing them to offer an alternative treat with a cup of coffee, for example.

But while Glisten will never have the scale of, say, Cadbury or Nestlé, this does not mean that more acquisitions or new business areas are not being considered. "We are determined to build Glisten into a multi-sector food group focused on specific niches within developed food markets, or emerging sectors where changing consumer trends indicate good growth potential,"​ Simmonds said, hinting at functional confectionery as one such area of growth.

"It would be great to be in gum, but that is a very hard market to break into and it is certainly not on the radar screen at the moment,"​ he added.

One area which looks decidedly more likely is that of fruited snacks. "We already coat a large number of fruit and nut products [Glisten has the European export rights for the Sun Maid chocolate-coated raisin brand, for example] and we therefore have some expertise in handling this kind of product,"​ Simmonds said.

"We are not about to invent the next KitKat - there are other companies much better suited to this level of R&D than we are, and who are doing it very well - but we could consider the acquisition of a company operating in an area where we saw growth. Though we are very happy with the way the bolt-on acquisitions have worked, we are not necessarily going to pursue that route every time. We could, for example, adapt an existing production line for a related product."

The only dark cloud on the horizon is Glisten's export business, and Simmonds clearly envisages a return to blue skies in the near future. Exports were down slightly at £1.6 million (from £1.7 million in 2003), but Simmonds said that this due to the necessity of focusing primarily on the domestic market.

"We have the European rights to Sun Maid chocolate raisins, and we see major potential there in the future,"​ he said. "This year's decline was only small and by no means terminal; we should see a return to growth in export sales by 2005."

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