A RECIPE FOR SWEET SUCCESS
5 Minutes with Rob Whitehead, chief executive officer of the Zubrance Group, a diverse independent food manufacturing business based in Harrogate to talk about his passion for all things sweet.
Tell us how you got where you are today
After a spell in management consulting, I first moved into the food manufacturing industry with Wakefield-based Matthews Foods which grew into a thriving operation.
Following its sale to Kerry Foods, I was ready for a new challenge and established the Zubrance Group. The group comprises of New Ivory, supplier of premium sauces to M&S and Asda – and is perhaps best known for being the ‘saucy’ in the Saucy Fish Company, Confection by Design which manufactures sweet inclusions and the latest venture, The Serious Sweet Company, which was launched in 2012 and produces traditional sugar-boiled favourites such as toffee, fudge and coconut ice. On the face of it, they seem quite an eclectic combination but they all have the same thing in common – we set out to make the best product that we can in their individual categories.
What has been your biggest challenge in recent times?
Definitely starting The Serious Sweet Company. It was probably the first business that had really been started from nothing. What you need to do to start a business is incredibly demanding and I’m emotionally connected to every aspect of it – I love that fact but for quite a while it was relentless and very draining.
Which branded business do you most admire and why?
For me, the real mark of a brand is one that always stays true to its culture, to what they are about, to the customer or user experience and to its people.
Apple epitomises everything that I think of in a brand – its distinctive, it does what is says it will and you just can’t get anything better! Amazon is another. And if Amazon Fresh enters into food delivery, it has an opportunity to really disrupt the major retailers. That will be an interesting one. I admire brands that can identify trends and consumer needs – take Moma for example and how they have shaken up the breakfast market with its ‘porridge on the go’. Fantastic ability to spot an opportunity.
What business accomplishment are you most proud of?
I like building businesses from scratch. There is something about seeing a new opportunity and using your instinct to go after it and make it a success. Alongside that comes recruiting great people that share my vision and passion – I’m proud that I can still recognise and attract talented individuals to be part of this.
What advice would you give to someone when you recruit a senior director?
I’m not just saying this because you are here in the room, but you guys play a vital role in educating us, the employer, on who is available and at what price. I find the real value comes from being challenged and really made to think about the type of person we need and why – recruiting cannot be something that is simply transactional; it has to be about attracting the best person with the right culture, at that point the fee becomes irrelevant – you are making an investment.