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Friday 27 January 2012

Soup Tower chairman reflects on icon of Kings Lynn

Lynn: Tower loss is a blasted waste

CAMPBELL'S SOUPS TOWER A trip down memory lane Raymond Monbiot sifts through photographic memories of his time as UK chairman of Campbell's Soups. On the right of the picture is the Ogilvy Award which was won by the King's Lynn UK factory in 1984-85. The first time it was had been awarded to a factory outside the United States

Published on Thursday 26 January 2012 08:56

A former UK chairman and chief executive officer of Campbell’s Soups regards the destruction of the company’s iconic water tower at Lynn as a piece of town planning vandalism.

Raymond Monbiot, who still lives close to Lynn, ran the company for most of the 1980s though he was quick to emphasis his view was no criticism of Sarah Griffiths who was chosen to set off the charges that brought down the tower.

“They have removed an icon. The company did a lot for the town. They brought wealth and employment to King’s Lynn.”

He remembers when the tower was a flagship on the edge of The Fens. “When it was built in 1958 it was surrounded by green fields. Now it is surrounded by large stores and supermarkets.”

Campbell’s, a company with factories across the world, decided to site their first factory in Europe in the UK, some 3,000 miles from their head office in the United States. They chose King’s Lynn for their head-on battle for the British market against giants in the business like Heinz, Cross and Blackwell and Batchelor’s.

He said: “They came to King’s Lynn because of the clean air, clean water and the quality of the local produce.”

Monbiot was made UK chairman of Campbell’s in 1982 and later, in the mid-eighties, his responsibilities were increased when they opened a second factory in Salford in Lancashire. Such was the success of the two factories that the then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, visited Salford to emphasise the importance to her government of the success of the American company’s entry into the British market.

During his time at the helm of the company there were 500 or so employers at Lynn.

Another important reason for choosing the town was that staff were ‘food friendly’.

“They came from an agricultural background and were well used to handling fresh produce.”

Many of the vegetables arrived at the factory with Fenland soil still clinging to them.

“In the factory there was always a wonderful smell of fresh food. We were a real quality food company,” he recalls.

But he also remembers the tight hold the parent company kept on its factories around the world.

He was inundated with books which detailed how to run the business.

“Even the pile of thick index books reached the ceiling. I never read them!”

Monbiot believes he was Campbell’s first British chairman and he used his long experience in the food industry to make sure their venture into the UK was success.

This was largely founded on their condensed soups which a survey discovered were used by eight out of 10 customers as sauces in their cooking, rather than purely as soups.

Emphasising this use was an innovation that helped increase the company’s share of the UK market from six per cent to 17 per cent and had the twin benefit of winning Lynn the company’s Ogilvy Award for success in 1984-85, the first time it had been presented to a factory outside the United States.

This success also meant that Monbiot had more autonomy that most chairman around the world.

“I was tactful but I was determined to run the business my way.”

But the destruction of the water tower marks the sad end to a company Monbiot believes did so much for Lynn.

Its height and size ensured that there was a constant and secure supply of clean water at the right pressure which was used copiously in all stages of the food process including being steam-heated to sterilize everything.

The destruction of the tower removes the last significant landmark of a local company that is a worldwide household name.

“Attempts were made to make the tower a listed building but they failed – I think by the Civic Society. I’m very sorry to see it go”

Now he has are only photographic memories of a company that was once the beating heart of the Lynn food industry

Lifted with apologies from Lynn News for preservation

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