S&B Herba Foods

All the right ingredients

From its three locations, S&B Herba Foods serves the retail ethnic food service and ingredients sections of the UK food industry

Servicing food manufacturers, Chinese and Indian wholesalers, grocery retailers and independents, S&B Herba Foods offers a range of rice brands, rice flour, fruits and nuts. With commercial, marketing and sales activities based in Orpington, the UK company’s rice milling and rice flour production is conducted from Liverpool and Cambridge.

“Founded on July 4th 1919, our business is split into three sections,” explains Paul Stevens, director of finance and administration. “The main portion of our business is that we are rice millers and processors, selling mainly to food manufacturers of everything from breakfast cereals to ready meals. Another significant portion of our manufacturing is used in the ethnic wholesale market, for onward sale through either wholesalers or cash and carries, and into the restaurant trade.

“The rest of our business is more of a trading nature, both in terms of food ingredients, which is primarily dried fruit that is going into the bakery and cereal markets, and a retail division that deals with all of the grocery retailers, wholesalers, independents and cash and carries, selling the rice, dried fruit and organic fruit and vegetables.”

As a subsidiary of the world’s largest rice company, Ebro Puleva, S&B Herba is responsible for distributing a number of the group’s brands in the UK. Explaining the history of the relationship, Paul says: “In the past we often talked about strategically aligning ourselves with a rice mill, rather than simply being a ‘middle-man’. Over the course of three years we conducted a series of discussions with Herba Foods, the rice division of Ebro Puleva, to combine our businesses. For many years we have traded with their Spanish mills and Liverpool operation, so we were able to combined their rice milling and processing expertise, with our sales, marketing and administration skills, together with our strong ethnic sector brand, Phoenix.

“We acquired the Liverpool site in February 2004, in exchange for issuing 51 per cent of our equity to them, with our previous parent, Riviana Foods retaining the other 49 per cent. While that was being finalised we were also in discussions for the acquisition of the Vogan & Co. rice mill, near Cambridge, and shortly after this was concluded Herba decided to acquire Riviana, meaning that by early 2005 we were fully owned by Ebro Puleva.”

As the leading group in the Spanish food sector, Ebro Puleva is a world leader in the rice sector and the second largest pasta manufacturer, while in Spain it is the leading sugar group and a leader in the marketing of value-added dairy products. With a number of operations across the world, including facilities in France, the US, Egypt, Italy, Denmark and Thailand, the group is focused on expanding its international markets, especially in Europe, through the purchase and management of its own brands.

In the retail sector the UK group works under a number of brands including Sun- Maid, Tarantella, Panzani and Trout Hall, while the ethnic sector, where the company has been brand leader for over 45 years, includes Phoenix, Peacock and Horseshoe. The ingredients market does not tend to have brand names though, with S&B sourcing and supplying quality ingredients across a wide range of products, including pasta, rice, cous cous, dried fruit, canned and frozen fruit and vegetables.

Detailing the impact that the move has made on the company, Paul continues: “Basically the biggest change has been integrating the three very different corporate cultures in Liverpool, Cambridge and here in Orpington. We have rationalised the business in terms of the operations and the products that we manufacture at our locations, and we hope to bring these separate entities under one company name by the end of the month.”

Describing the advantages of being a part of the group, Paul comments: “As the world’s largest rice company, they bring a strong sourcing power with them, while their recent acquisitions of Riviana and Panzani allow us to offer our customer base a wider supply of products, which obviously strengthens the group’s position in the UK. There are also lots of product developments within the group that we can bring into the market.”

Expanding on the recent developments, Paul continues: “There are several innovations in the pipeline at the moment, with potential launches primarily in the retail sector. We have identified a need to market our organic products, and launches here will be focused on the health conscious market, which is a rapidly growing area. For example we have just launched a microwaveable porridge product with a leading retailer under the Success brand.

“Alongside this is the further possible expansion of our single-serve microwaveable rice pot, because there are more products than just rice that could be put into these pots, with many niches that are yet to be identified and exploited. Ideally we are looking to combine the convenience of the microwaveable pot with a product that meets the consumer demand for healthy eating.”

An example of this organic focus is a recent development with the Tarantella brand. “This began as a standard tomato product, but we saw the opportunity to develop a range of organic tomatoes,” says Paul. “With this finding success we have looked to identify natural compliments by forming exclusive partnerships with suppliers, and working with manufacturers to develop new recipes, including a mixed bean salad and pinto beans.”

Summarising the market as a whole, Paul comments: “There is a lot of competition out there, and we are looking for a point of difference. Our strategy is to look at what products exist to find an opportunity in the market, or examine our in-house technology to see where we can extend one of our concepts. We are looking for areas that no one has gone down, and that centres around convenience and healthy eating.”

With a clearly defined strategy for moving the company forward, S&B Herba Foods is committed to finding new products that will excite consumers. Alongside this clear focus, Paul concludes that the company’s success is driven by quality: “We look to supply quality products, and have consistently prided ourselves on the level of service that we are prepared to offer.”