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British Industrial History

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Ross Group

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The Ross Group was a British food company

1920 Registered as Thomas Ross Ltd in Grimsby.

1929 Carl Ross became Chairman and Managing Director when his father retired.

Starting with a small fleet of four fishing vessels in the 1930s, Ross diversified into trawling from 1934.

By the outbreak of World War II, the company operated fish merchanting branches in Leeds, Leicester, and Fleetwood as well as its Grimsby base.

1944 The acquisition of a major shareholding in Trawlers Grimsby was followed by several other fishing fleets such as the Queen Steam Fishing Co.

1948 Used a factory at Westwick, Norfolk from 1948, where they packed fruit and vegetables, - garden peas

1954 The Westwick plant was bought completely by Ross

Potato chips were introduced in 1962. It bought Grimsby Motors in June 1959, Sterling Poultry (broiler chicken) in May 1961, and Waterworth Brothers (fruit shops) in August 1964.

1953 George Dawson began importing Icelandic fish, when the Ingólfr Arnarson trawler landed; this was opposed by the company and the Grimsby Fish Merchants' Association. Imports of Icelandic fish had been officially banned.

1954 the company chartered the Norwegian steamer Norfrost to import £40,000 worth of halibut (150 tonnes), which was claimed to be the world's largest catch of deep sea fish; it would be enough fish for one million meals.

1956 Carl Ross took over G. F. Sleight Ltd, which employed 20 of the best trawler skippers in Britain,

By the end of the 1950s the company was landing 100 million lbs of fish per year; at this time, Ross was a subsidiary of Trawlers Grimsby

1959 the company changed its name to Ross Group, and all food was now branded under this name.

1960/1, the Ross Group took over the Rinovia Steam Fishing Co. At its peak the Group owned the largest fishing fleet in Europe, with 8 trawler fleets.

By the early 1960s, Ross's holdings included poultry, frozen and fresh foods, including fish, as well as its fish trawling, merchanting, and other operations. Yet the company's trawling operations, which by then represented just 5 percent of group sales, had become perennial money-losers.

Mid-60s The company had 65 vessels, the second largest fleet in England, after Associated Fisheries (there were around 600 fishing trawlers in England in 1960).

1965 Began building trawlers in his latest acquisition - the Cochrane Shipyards of Selby. These were the 'Cat' and 'Bird' class trawlers.

1965 Ross opened a division in Holland with Eurofrost NV called Ross Diepvres in Breda, to distribute and make its products in the Dutch market.

In the mid-1960s, its businesses were, in order of turnover, poultry, frozen foods, fish trawling and distribution, fresh foods other than fish, motors, transport, and vessel construction, chemicals and agricultural services, and overseas business. They were the largest fish distributors in the UK, worth £27 million in 1965.

In the mid-1960s, a new £430,000 11-storey headquarters was built in Grimsby by Myton, a division of Taylor Woodrow. The building, still in use as the head offices of Young's Bluecrest and known as 'Ross House', dominates the southern wall of the town's once thriving fish docks.

Carl Ross left the Ross Group after an acrimonious board room struggle in 1965 and, as a direct result of this, Imperial Tobacco Co gained control in September 1969; the company had offered £47.5 million for Ross on 6 August 1969. Became Ross Foods

While Carl Ross was in control Ross Group had diversified into non-fish foodstuffs such as Ross frozen food. While the non-fish food companies were subject to several further takeovers, the Ross fishing fleet was acquired by British United Trawlers by a merger with Associated Fisheries organised by the Industrial Reorganisation Corporation on 2 April 1969 (Ross had tried to buy this company in 1961 and 1965 and rejected by the Monopolies Commission in May 1966).

1969 Sold the Cochrane shipyard

By the 1970s, the three largest producers of frozen food were Bird's Eye, Findus (who opened a plant in Grimsby in June 1960) and Ross Group. By 1973, Findus and Ross were selling £41 million of goods per year, and Birds Eye sold £109 million. Ross Poultry was producing around £4 million per year, with its Buxted (now based in Suffolk) and Premier Farm brands.

1986 Imperial Foods was acquired by Hanson Trust

On 16 March 1988 the Ross Foods and Youngs seafood businesses were bought by United Biscuits for £335 million.


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