Week by week, we will be delving into the back stories of some of the greatest Yorkshire companies – finding out about the people behind them, their humble beginnings, how they became household names, and where they are now. Today we take a look at KP, finding out how a company producing local sweets and chutneys, went on to become one of the biggest names in snack foods.
Kenyon & Son started as a producer of confectionery, jams and pickles in Rotherham in 1853. In 1891, they became a limited company changing their name to Kenyon & Sons and Craven Ltd, opening a second factory in Hull. For the next fifty years, the company saw mixed fortunes, often on the brink of collapse – between 1900 and 1904 the directors took no payment, and in 1917 they had to get rid of the Hull factory.
In 1943, the company’s fortunes changed after the arrival of their new chairman, Simon Heller. He was relatively young with a tough business attitude gained from experience of operating his own company in London and Leeds – the Hercules Nut Company. Over the next few years, he made deals with local market traders to obtain cheap fruit and vegetables for their jams and chutneys. In 1948, they were able to purchase a second-hand gas frying machine, and in 1952, started roasting and salting hazelnuts which they sold to local shops and cinemas under the Hercules brand.
Heller was very hands on, often having to take home unfinished paperwork at the end of the day. He also had a reputation for never refusing an order. This led to them supplying ground coconut to sweet manufacturers Bassett. In 1950, the company moved to new premises at the Eastwood Trading Estate in Rotherham. Heller also set up his own sugar syrup factory in Barbados. The company was now known simply as Kenyon Produce.
In 1953, Heller turned away from pickling, moving instead into salted peanuts. This was the year that saw the launch of the twopenny packet of KP Nuts; the first nationally distributed brand of nuts – the KP being the initials of the company. Realising that nuts were the way forward, they stopped production of their jams and confectionery; instead introducing roasted and salted varieties of peanuts, cashews and almonds, mixed fruit and nuts, peanut brittle and peanut butter.
Business continued to build throughout the 1950s and 1960s. In 1962, KP struck a deal with Marks & Spencer to produce their St Michael packs of nuts. In turn, M&S introduced KP to dated packaging, ensuring that customers always got the freshest produce. Between 1964 and 1966, KP doubled the size of their production factory. By 1968 KP had a turnover of £5million and was bought by United Biscuits, with Michael Heller joining the board and becoming managing director.
Since the takeover by United Biscuits, KP Snacks has gone on to introduce national favourites such as Hula Hoops (1973), Skips (1974), Discos (1979), Space Raiders (1987), Brannigan’s, Roysters (1992), Frisps (1989), McCoys (1985) and Phileas Fogg (1993). In 2014 KP merged with Intersnack UK, but still retained their name and took their share in the UK snacks market to fourteen per cent. Their headquarters are still at the Eastwood site in Rotherham, along with a production factory nearby There is also a second factory based in Teesside, ensuring that one of the biggest producers of crisps and nuts remains close to the county of its birth.
In the next post in this series, we will look at Ben Shaws.
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