Iconic food brand begins new chapter

By Ged Henderson

06 Apr 2023

Alston Dairy

An iconic Lancashire food brand is set to start a new chapter after being acquired by the James Hall group of companies for an undisclosed sum.

Family run yogurt maker Ann Forshaw’s and its associated Alston Dairy was founded in the early 1980s.

James Hall & Co serves a network of independent Spar retailers and company-owned stores across the North of England from its base at Bowland View in Preston.

The acquisition sees the family-owned group expand its portfolio of food manufacturing businesses in the North West to five, adding Forshaw’s to Clayton Park Bakery, Fazila Foods, Graham Eyes Butchers and the Great Northern Sandwich Company.

Operating within the group will mean business as usual for Alston Dairy. Company founder Ann Forshaw and her granddaughter Emma Coupe, who joined in 2017, will remain as directors and will run the company on a day-to-day basis, and all staff will continue in employment.

The family’s Bolton Fold Farm, next door to the dairy, will also remain under ownership of the Forshaw family.

With a mission of producing high quality yogurt from farm to pot within 24 hours, Alston Dairy will continue to purchase milk from the farm to maintain the product’s unique characteristic by using the freshest milk possible.

Dominic Hall, joint managing director of James Hall & Co, which can trace its roots back to 1863, says: “The Ann Forshaw’s brand has an outstanding reputation for producing premium yogurt products.

“We have sold Ann Forshaw’s products in our Spar stores for many years and they have played an important role in our dairy categories, becoming firm customer favourites.

“We continue to strive to source locally as much as we can and acquiring Alston Dairy will allow us to protect that ambition and keep the brand local.

“We are keen to grow the business further and see a huge amount of potential in the Ann Forshaw’s brand.

“We will grow the presence in more Spar stores and continue to develop products in new categories, ensuring that greater numbers of customers can enjoy the products.”

Ann began the business that bears her name in the early 1980s after completing a one-day yogurt making course.

Armed with the knowledge gleaned from the course, she set about making low fat yogurt, sweetened with apple juice, using the skimmed milk which at the time was a waste product on the farm from the cream that they produced.

The business, based on the outskirts of Longridge in the Ribble Valley, has had its share of challenges over the past four decades. However, it has overcome them all through Ann’s determination and her family’s support.

The family had bought Bolton Fold farm when it came up for sale in 1980. The opportunity to own their farmland and house was too good an opportunity to pass up, despite interest rates at 18 per cent.

The yogurt business came out of the need to create extra revenue. In those early days Ann sold 30 dozen pots a week to small local shops. As the business grew, Lancashire based grocery chain EH Booths was one of the first supermarkets to stock Forshaw’s products, followed by James Hall. There were difficult times to be navigated.

At one stage the bank proposed the sale of some of the farmland and 40 of the dairy herd to help solve some of the financial challenges.

However, as a result of her determination the bank gave Ann another six months, declaring after that time that she and her family had “done the impossible”.

The late 1980s also saw a new dairy built to cope with the volume needed to supply Forshaw’s then main customer, a German supermarket chain, only for it to lose the work and 80 per cent of the business to another company on price. More determination and persistence were required.

Ann says: “Across several decades I have poured all of my energy and passion into growing the business and with the support of a wonderful team we have developed the brand and product range in to what it is today.”

Looking at the sale, she says: “I felt that the time was right for me to sell the business and I was keen to ensure that Alston Dairy and the Ann Forshaw’s brand was sold on to a company that has shared values and is similarly family-owned, so I am very pleased to complete the deal with James Hall.

“I am also very excited to remain as a director of the business, together with Emma, to bring to life the new ideas that we have for Ann Forshaw’s products.

“And I am very much looking forward to a future where even more Spar customers can access our fantastic yogurt range.”

The market for those products remains large with Britons spending more than £2bn a year on yogurt products. In 2021, production of yogurt in the UK totalled approximately 463,000 tonnes.

Enjoyed this? Read more from Ged Henderson

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