Hovis is arguably Britain's most iconic sliced loaf of bread, but the one-time market leader has suffered a rough ride in recent years. Acquired by Premier Foods in 2007 as the cornerstone of the old Rank Hovis MacDougall group, it was spun off as a separate company in 2014 under the control of investment group Gores. (Premier retains a 49% investment stake). That followed a string of problems including temporary delisting by Tesco as a result of a row over pricing, and then production issues caused by British wheat shortages. It also lost several private label contracts. One of the country's oldest bread brands, Hovis was the market leader in the premium segment throughout most of the 20th century, supported by a heavy commitment to advertising, designed to make the idea of brown bread synonymous with the Hovis brand. ("Don't say brown, say Hovis"). The brand was best-known for its unsliced "little brown loaf", each of which featured the Hovis name baked into its side. Its lead was reinforced by a series of memorable films from agency CDP during the 1970s, which leaned heavily on the brand's Northern heritage. During the 1990s, however, Hovis's position came under attack from younger competitors Kingsmill (from ABF's Allied Bakeries) and Warburtons. Despite attempts to modernise by phasing out the "little brown loaf" and following its rivals into the sliced variety sector, it was overtaken as the UK's leading bread brand by Warburtons in 2004, and later by Kingsmill instead. It fought back by raising its brand value with premium sidelines and a commitment to use only British wheat. An accompanying price rise allowed it to push Kingsmill back into third place during 2017. Nielsen (in The Grocer) estimated combined retail sales of £320m for Hovis in 2017. It also produces several smaller brands including Granary, Mother's Pride and Nimble. Hovis Holdings reported revenues for 2017 (including private label) of £470m.
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Capsule checked 23rd January 2019
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