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Associated British Foods: an 85-year history


From a bakery founded in 1935, to grocery stores and a clothing brand, from bread to sugar and cereals, to enzymes, yeast, animal feed and more. The evolution of Associated British Foods (ABF) is one of considered expansion, growing popular brands and making acquisitions in adjacent businesses and markets for over 85 years. The result is a group of food and clothing businesses, many of which are market-leading, that are loved by consumers the world over. Read the story of the milestones in ABF’s history and how we built a group that exists to provide safe, nutritious and affordable food, and clothing that is great value for money.


1935
Allied Bakeries, the forerunner to ABF, is established by Garfield Weston
After travelling to the UK from his native Canada to serve in the First World War, Garfield Weston saw an opportunity to replicate his family’s bakery business in the UK. With this vision in mind, he invested in seven bakeries to create Allied Bakeries. Over the next 20 years Garfield Weston acquired more than a dozen national and regional bakery companies including Barrett and Pomeroy, London and Provincial Bakeries and in 1955 the Aerated Bread Company which included a bakery business and a chain of cafeterias, the A.B.C. Tearooms. This period of growth established Allied Bakeries as one of the leaders in industrial baking in the UK.
1935 Allied Bakeries, the forerunner to ABF, is established by Garfield Weston

1949
Allied Bakeries acquires Ryvita
Ryvita was acquired in 1949 and is today the UK category leader in crispbreads. Ryvita was the first business in what would become ABF’s Grocery division. Today, nine out of 10 UK households use our Grocery brands, which include well-known brands such as Jordans, Dorset Cereals, Kingsmill, Billington’s and Silver Spoon.
1949 Allied Bakeries acquires Ryvita

1950s
First investments into Australia and New Zealand
By the 1950s Garfield Weston saw an opportunity to expand the business into Australia and New Zealand and his son, Garry Weston, travelled there, repurposing surplus equipment from the UK to serve these rapidly growing markets with bakery products. Following a successful expansion, George Weston Foods was formed in 1962 to oversee ABF’s businesses in these markets. Today George Weston Foods includes popular brands such as Tip Top Bakery, KR Castlemaine, DON and Yumi’s.
1950s First investments into Australia and New Zealand
1958
Garfield Weston establishes the Garfield Weston Foundation
Garfield Weston placed a large majority of the Weston family’s shares in the business into a charitable foundation with the express objective of making the dividend proceeds from these shares available for charitable purposes. At the time, Garfield Weston wrote to his children saying: “Great wealth has great responsibility. It can destroy all those who have it, or if they wisely control it, I am sure it can bring great blessings in its distribution. We must seriously think about how we can do the most good with what we have to give away.” Today, the Foundation is one of the UK’s leading grant-making charitable institutions and is mainly funded by the dividends from Associated British Foods. By its 60th anniversary in 2019, the Foundation had given more than £1bn to a vast array of UK charities, large and small.
1958 Garfield Weston establishes the Garfield Weston Foundation

1960
Associated British Foods is created
With the expansion of the A.B.C. Tearooms into grocery retail in 1959 and active plans to further diversify beyond baking and milling, Allied Bakeries changed its name to Associated British Foods, which it still goes by today.
1960 Associated British Foods is created
1963
Acquisition of Fine Fare
Building on acquisitions made in the 1950s, the grocery retail business gained momentum with the acquisition of Fine Fare, a British supermarket chain in 1963. This was the beginning of two retail paths: one which would see the grocery business become a significant player in the UK, and eventually the number one grocery retailer in Ireland and Northern Ireland with the Quinnsworth and Stewarts brands. The other path would see ABF move into clothing retailing in Ireland with the founding of Primark, in part built on experience in selling non-food products from its supermarkets and using the experience gained from building market-leading retailers in Quinnsworth and Stewarts. Over the years, as the Primark business became more successful, ABF began to focus on clothing and move out of supermarkets. Fine Fare was sold in 1986 to the Somerfield chain of supermarkets, the proceeds of which were used to expand into the attractive sugar industry with the acquisition of British Sugar five years later in 1991. The Irish supermarket businesses were sold to Tesco in 1997.
1963 Acquisition of Fine Fare
1964
Acquisition of Twinings
Twinings was acquired as part of a clear diversification strategy into other industries. Twinings has been blending tea for over 300 years, since Thomas Twining opened the famous Twinings Tea Shop on London’s Strand. In 1837, Queen Victoria granted Twinings its first Royal Warrant for tea, appointing Twinings as the supplier of tea to the Royal Household, an honour it still holds today. Under ABF’s stewardship, the Twinings product portfolio has been expanded to more than 200 teas from around the world and Twinings teas are sold to customers in more than 100 countries.
1964 Acquisition of Twinings
1969
Founding of Primark
ABF financed the first Primark store in Mary Street, Dublin, trading as Penneys, based on the business idea and entrepreneurship of Arthur Ryan, Primark’s founder (pictured). Arthur Ryan had a vision to open an affordable clothing store after running the clothing department of food and clothing retailer, Dunne’s. This vision, combined with ABF’s financing and retail expertise, set Primark on the path to become one of the world’s foremost discount chains. During his 40-year tenure as Chief Executive, Arthur expanded Primark from that single store in Mary Street to 165 stores across six countries. In the process he made good, fashionable clothing accessible to millions of people. Primark still trades as Penneys in Ireland today.
1969 Founding of Primark

1980s
ABF begins to invest in bakery ingredients
Through its origins in baking, ABF developed an interest in the bakery ingredients market to benefit from the synergies and integration potential between the two industries. Throughout the 1980s, ABF made a number of investments that ultimately led in 2004 to the acquisition of the international yeast activities of Burns Philp. This in turn led to the creation of AB Mauri, ABF’s yeast and bakery ingredients business. Today, AB Mauri operates across Europe, the Americas and Asia Pacific and is a global leader in yeast and bakery ingredients.
1980s ABF begins to invest in bakery ingredients

1990s
ABF expands into the US
To continue its diversification, ABF sought to build a foothold in the US, the largest food market in the world. Informed by the experience of expanding into the bakery ingredients market in the UK, ABF made an initial foray into the US market and completed a number of acquisitions of ingredients businesses, including ABITEC Corporation, an oleo-chemicals business and AC Humko, a refiner and blender of vegetable oils. These acquisitions would become the foundations for a broader participation in speciality ingredients for years to come.
1990s ABF expands into the US
1991
Acquisition of British Sugar
Through prudent financial management and capital discipline, ABF had built up a significant ‘war chest’ and sought to further diversify through a large-scale acquisition of British Sugar. At the time, British Sugar was under-invested but ABF saw significant scope to add value to the business, based on similarities with the bread business. British Sugar has been a major player in UK agriculture for more than 100 years and today is the sole processor of sugar beet in the UK, with four factories producing as much sugar as when it operated 18 factories many years ago. Our processes today result in virtually zero waste with co-products including topsoil, animal feed and electricity fed back into the national grid.
1991 Acquisition of British Sugar
1993
Formation of AB Agri
AB Agri started life as a co-products business of British Sugar, when a team was tasked with turning the leftover pulp from the sugar into a nutritious animal feed product. It was spun out into a separate business unit in 1993 and through a series of successful M&A deals has grown to become the market leader in the UK compound animal feed business as well as operating a range of other animal nutrition businesses.
1993 Formation of AB Agri
1999
Acquisition of AB Enzymes
AB Enzymes was one of the first major acquisitions that would become part of the present-day ABFI (ABF Ingredients), ABF’s specialty ingredients business. ABFI offers innovative products to the food, nutrition, pharmaceutical, animal feed and industrial sectors, serving customers in more than 50 countries from production facilities in Europe, the Americas and India. In 2004, ABFI and AB Mauri, ABF’s bakery and yeast ingredients business, were brought together under a new Ingredients business segment.
1999 Acquisition of AB Enzymes

2000s
ABF expands its US footprint
After successfully entering the US market a decade earlier, ABF began to expand into branded consumer businesses that would become the building blocks of the present day ACH, including Mazola in 2002, the leading corn oil in the US; Karo, a corn syrup business, and Argo corn starch, in 2003; and Fleischmann’s yeast business in 2004. Today, ACH also includes Capullo, a premium canola oil business in Mexico and Anthony’s Goods, a brand of high-quality, organic and natural specialty baking ingredients primarily sold online in the US.
2000s ABF expands its US footprint
2002
Acquisition of Ovaltine
ABF acquired Ovaltine, a producer of malted beverages and snacks, in May 2002, and ABF merged it with Twinings to form Twinings Ovaltine. Ovaltine was invented by Swiss chemist Dr Albert Wander, who blended eggs and malt to create a wholesome powdered drink. Since then, Ovaltine has grown to offer many products, from the original powdered drink to muesli, ice cream and even pizza toppings. Ovaltine is a brand that has been loved for more than 100 years and is enjoyed by millions of people in over 100 countries.
2002 Acquisition of Ovaltine
2004
Primark acquires Littlewoods' stores
Primark expanded its footprint within the UK by acquiring the store portfolio of the former Littlewoods group. This was one of the most significant steps in Primark’s growth story, enabling Primark to rapidly open stores in some of the UK’s most prominent high streets and increasing Primark’s retail space by 60%.
2004 Primark acquires Littlewoods' stores
2006
ABF acquires controlling stake in Illovo
Following its successful acquisition of British Sugar, ABF sought to expand its presence in the sugar industry and purchased a 51% stake in Illovo, a sugar company based in Africa. ABF acquired the additional 49% stake in 2016 to take full ownership. Illovo is Africa’s biggest sugar producer, with extensive operations in six African countries – Eswatini, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania and Zambia – manufacturing sugar and downstream products from cane supplied by our own agricultural operations and independent local growers. We are proud of the significant positive impact we make in the rural communities where we operate, creating valuable jobs and economic opportunities and providing accommodation, healthcare and educational assistance to employees and communities.
2006 ABF acquires controlling stake in Illovo
2006
Primark begins its international expansion with the opening of its first store in Spain
Primark’s initial store in Madrid, Spain, was the first store to be opened outside the UK and Ireland, marking the start of a successful international expansion. Today Primark operates across Ireland, the UK, Spain, Portugal, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, France, Italy, Slovenia, Czech Republic, Poland and the US.
2006 Primark begins its international expansion with the opening of its first store in Spain
2007
Formation of AB World Foods
AB World Foods was formed through the combination of G. Costa, a speciality food company acquired in 2003 which included Blue Dragon, and Patak’s, the family business established in 1956 by the Patak family which grew into a leading purveyor of Indian cuisine ingredients, acquired in 2007. In more recent years, AB World Foods has expanded its brand portfolio with the addition of Al’Fez, the leading mainstream Middle Eastern brand in Europe.
2007 Formation of AB World Foods
2008
Acquisition of Jordans and Dorset cereal brands
Jordans, a producer of cereals and cereal bars created to offer healthy, natural products with a strong environmental ethos, was acquired in June 2008 and merged with Ryvita to expand the ‘better-for-you’ cereals and savoury snacks offering. This was followed by another cereal acquisition in 2014, Dorset Cereals, an award-winning producer of premium granola and muesli, renowned for the quality of ingredients, including wholegrain oats as well as fruits, nuts and seeds from around the world.
2008 Acquisition of Jordans and Dorset cereal brands

2012
Acquisition of Elephant Atta
ABF’s Westmill division acquired Elephant Atta, the UK’s leading ethnic flour brand in 2012. Westmill has been serving communities whose cultural heritage originates from east and south Asia, Africa and the Caribbean for over 30 years and includes well-known brands such as Rajah Spices and Tolly Boy.
2012 Acquisition of Elephant Atta
2015
Primark opens its first store in the US
As part of its international expansion, Primark opened its first store in Boston, USA in 2015. From its origins in Dublin, this represented a huge milestone for Primark. The store opening was attended by the Mayor of Boston, Marty Walsh, who turned to Arthur Ryan, Primark’s founder, during the ceremony and asked, “Did you ever think you’d get to Boston?” to which Arthur replied, “I didn’t think we’d get to Cork.”
2015 Primark opens its first store in the US
2017
Acquisition of specialist consumer brands Acetum, Yumi’s and Anthony’s Goods
Over the course of two years, ABF made a series of acquisitions of specialist producers to meet consumers’ increasingly sophisticated tastes and growing demand for high-quality, on-trend foods. Acetum, acquired in 2017, is one of Italy’s leading producers of Balsamic Vinegar of Modena and produces Mazzetti, the market leader in Balsamic Vinegar in Germany, Australia and the Netherlands and growing in the UK and US. In 2018, George Weston Foods acquired Yumi’s, one of Australia’ leading producers of hommus, vegetable dips and snacks. In 2019, ACH acquired Anthony’s Goods, a brand of high-quality, organic and natural specialty baking ingredients primarily sold online which is ideally positioned to benefit from the acceleration in e-commerce and increased consumer demand for healthy, organic products.
2017 Acquisition of specialist consumer brands Acetum, Yumi’s and Anthony’s Goods
2019
Primark celebrates 50th anniversary
Since the opening of its first store in Mary Street, Dublin, Primark, known as Penneys in Ireland, has grown into an internationally renowned retail brand. We are famous for offering great value to customers and pride ourselves on our wide selection of products, from everyday essentials to the latest trends, and all at prices everyone can afford.
2019 Primark celebrates 50th anniversary

2020
Supporting the nation during the COVID-19 pandemic
Our people demonstrated care, good judgement and immense hard work during the COVID-19 pandemic. With fewer people working on-site in our factories, stores and offices – due to isolation, shielding or social distancing measures – our employees worked together to find solutions to meet unprecedented increased customer demand. In the financial year 2019/20 consumer demand for yeast increased 150% across North America; flour demand was up 200% in the UK; demand for Patak’s sauces increased by 45% and Blue Dragon meal kits by 75%. While all Primark stores were closed in the first lockdown, Primark employees collated 450,000 care packs for health workers in the Republic of Ireland, UK, Europe and the US.
2020 Supporting the nation during the COVID-19 pandemic
2021
Primark launches the Primark Cares sustainability strategy
In 2021 Primark launched a wide-reaching sustainability strategy, Primark Cares, designed to reduce fashion waste, halve carbon emissions across its value chain and improve the lives of the people who make Primark’s products. The new strategy commits Primark to change the way its clothes are made without changing its affordable prices, enabling everyone to make more sustainable choices when shopping.
2021 Primark launches the Primark Cares sustainability strategy

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