In an interview with The Telegraph, Jeff Halliwell, a former marketing man, is more than happy to detail Bernard Matthews’ plans to bring turkey back to the masses.
Hiring a new UK chief executive whose experience of the turkey business barely stretches beyond Christmas dinner might not be an obvious choice but at Bernard Matthews it seems best to expect the unexpected.
It is not that Jeff Halliwell does not have experience. The 55-year old has worked with cat food, biscuits, cheese and baby milk in his time. But feathered friends are a fresh challenge.
“Clearly what I don’t have is prior turkey experience, but then there are 2,200 people in this business and 2,199 of them are genuine turkey experts,” Halliwell explains. “As long as I know what I don’t know and when to rely on others, I think that’s ok.”
Halliwell, a former marketing man, is more than happy to detail the company’s plans to bring turkey back to the masses and his belief in the “bootiful” brand, but as for wiping the slate clean, that seems to be out of bounds.
It is a slate that many would argue needs attention. Between 2005 and 2007, Bernard Matthews was dealt more blows than many companies could reasonably expect in a decade.
Halliwell’s decision to steer clear of the past also seems curious given his analysis of the main challenges he faced coming into the job. One issue, he says, was “that the business had to engage externally much more”.
One issue, the food boss says, was about getting the company back to its core strengths. “If you go back to the early years, Bernard Matthews was about 101 things to do with a turkey. But then in the early parts of this decade, the business diverted into sandwiches, pizzas and New Zealand lamb, all of which tended to dilute the focus. We’re the turkey experts and I’m a great believer in sticking to the knitting.”
Halliwell blames that lack of focus at least in part for Bernard Matthews’ current problems as the company battles to turn around a long-term decline in turkey consumption in the UK.
Bernard Matthews has sold off its sandwich business and made redundancies as it looks to take out costs and return to profit. Halliwell is reluctant to state whether further redundancies will follow, but the signs are far from promising for Bernard Matthews staff.
“Any MD who promises their staff job security for life is probably a liar and in a recession that is especially the case. I wouldn’t rule anything in or out,” he says. “We will look to make the business more efficient. The level of return we’re getting is a little better than break even on a £330m turnover. That is clearly not adequate.”