Garden Isle MD leaves amidst redundancies

PUBLISHED: 18:33 26 September 2006 | UPDATED: 19:49 01 June 2010

Lord Haskins (left) congratulates Robert Smith after he opened the new Garden Isle extension two years ago.

Lord Haskins (left) congratulates Robert Smith after he opened the new Garden Isle extension two years ago.

FORMER Garden Isle managing director Robert Smith has left the company- and some sales staff made redundant- just months after its acquisition by a Dutch/American conglomerate. LambWeston/Meijer have moved the Wisbech sales operation to Holland and severe

FORMER Garden Isle managing director Robert Smith has left the company- and some sales staff made redundant- just months after its acquisition by a Dutch/American conglomerate.

LambWeston/Meijer have moved the Wisbech sales operation to Holland and severed all connections with the Smiths who helped build Garden Isle into a multi million pound operation employing over 130 people.

Just two years after Garden Isle opened an 83,000 square feet factory in Weasenham Lane -a move Robert Smith described as the company's "biggest investment ever"- the new owners are battling to pull the business round.

In July LambWeston/Meir announced that they had acquired 100 per cent of the shares of Smith & Holbourne Ltd, the parent company of Garden Isle.

It meant that overnight the newly merged companies became one of Europe's largest processors of frozen potato products, with a capability of producing 500,000 tonnes of finished product a year and with a workforce of 1,000.

However the new owners have decided there is no room for Mr Smith in the newly re-structured company at Wisbech.

One staff member, who recently left, said he felt certain one of the reasons for Garden Isle having to sell was the over-run on the costs of building the new extension.

In February this year Garden Isle, which turned over £25 million in 2004, reported an operating loss for the year ending January 2005 of more than £3 million compared to a £500,000 profit the year before.

Mr Smith blamed the relocation in part since it took longer than expected, he said, for a trading upturn following the change over.

Relocation costs of £603,000, written off in the accounts as an "exceptional item", are thought to have risen since as the company got to terms with its new production facilities which are capable of handling 100,000 tonnes of potatoes a year, mostly from Fenland farms.

Wisbech born Mr Smith, 41, who two years ago completed a masters degree in business administration, was unavailable this week for comment.

Doug Bruce, who has taken over as Operations Manager of the Wisbech plant, said he had no specific details regarding Mr Smith's departure.

"LambWeston /Meijer's preference is to have their own management on -site , as we have a substantial investment and long history in our relationship with our customers, it is essential to continue our practices and relationships which have made us successful as in the past," he said.

"We tend to bring complimentary additions from our culture to the new organization which tends to make the organization more secure and stronger. Changing management under such circumstance is not at all unusual.

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