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Princes Foods

The Princes Food Group has a 118 year history which began in Liverpool. Way back in 1880 as the city was a very significant port in terms of world trade and it was not uncommon at that time to see wooden sailing vessels coming up the River Mersey bringing in grain and timber, together with lobster, salmon and other canned foods. In those days, transport for the docks was horse- drawn and carters were to be seen on a daily basis along the dock road and around the city. The commercial life of the city was well established and spread to all parts of the world. Other ports in the UK were served by small coasting sailing vessels from Liverpool.

William Simpson
Frank Roberts
It was in 1880 too that Mr William Simpson and Mr Frank Roberts formed a partnership to establish Simpson Roberts and Company, later to become the  Princes Group. The firm pioneered the importation of canned lobster in 1880 and as business developed, Mr Simpson decided that other parts of the country, including London would provide potential customers for lobster. On a sales trip to London he sold to one house 10,000 cases each containing 48 one-pound tall tins at 23s 6d per case, plus 2,000 cases of 48 one-pound flat tins of lobster at 31s 0d a case. These were exceptional transactions for the period and paved the way for greater exploits. From that time, the company became the largest importer of canned lobster in the world. At this time trade was largely confined to Liverpool merchants; exporters and ships' store dealers but they decided to sell to Merseyside grocers and to the retailers in Lancashire and Yorkshire. Travellers were appointed for Liverpool and agents in other parts of the UK. In 1902 Simpson Roberts and Company decided that, if they were to extend and succeed in canned salmon as well as canned lobster, they would have to establish direct connections with salmon packers. Therefore in that year they opened an office in Vanvouver.

It was not until around 1900 that pink salmon became popular however, the company sold it from the outset under the 'Mountain Stream' name. It was shortly after the end of the First World War that Mr Roberts and Mr Simpson decided that it was time for them to retire from business and made the firm a private limited company, and themselves permanent directors.

First Office in Redcross Street Liverpool 1880

The company continued to sell salmon in the UK and abroad until the Second World War receiving supplies from Alaska, Japan and Siberia. By 1939 the sales of canned crab made Simpson Roberts the largest distributer of crab in the UK. It was at this time the company decided to expand its range selling Californian pilchards in tomato sauce sold under the 'Princes' label and adding to the other canned foods such as tuna which was first sold during the First World War. Trade in canned fruit also began to grow and because of the firms high standards in packing and the quality of their produce they were considered the best canned fruits in the world. By 1927 the company were selling pineapples from Singapore and by 1938 the company were selling Princes brand jams and marmalades all under the 'Princes' brand name.

In 1946 Princes purchased their Southport factory, they introduced lobster, chicken and dressed crab and meat pastes sold in glass jars.  Major changes took place in the 70s and 80s with Princes foods being sold to Buitoni in 1973 and being bought by NestlĂ©. In 1989 Princes foods was bought by the Mitsubishi corporation the company went on to acquire, Barrowclough's soft drinks, Cyma Foods and Barber Springdale and Waterford Soft Drinks.

The company has developed significantly over the last 122 years and by 1996 had a turnover of 364 million. It has 200 supply partners in 40 countries and sell more than 400 product lines it remains one of the UKs fastest growing brands and it all began here, in Liverpool.


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By Robert F Edwards

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