THERE was never any real doubt that Simon Howarth would join the family firm.
At the age of nine, he was already making himself useful on Saturdays helping to clean the meat slicing machine at Howarth’s freezer centre in Birkby.
And as a teenager, he abandoned his A-level studies after just one year to take over the running of the Birkby store when the shop manager fell ill.
Now he has risen through the ranks to become managing director of Dalton-based Total Foodservice – a business which traces its roots to his great-grandfather, William Howarth.
And while he takes evident pride in the company’s achievements since its formation in the 1920s, he is single-mindedly focused on ensuring its future remains secure.
William Howarth and his brother George Henry began the business distributing fruit preserves by horse and cart to shops from a base at Huddersfield’s Prospect Jam Works. Soon after, William’s son George Henry, named after his uncle, joined the business and persuaded his father to move into greengrocery and fresh fish. A new store opened in Moldgreen and then in Shambles Lane in Huddersfield town centre.
In 1960, Richard Howarth, George Henry junior’s son and Simon’s father, joined the company and within five years had modernised the Moldgreen store to attract new custom – boosting takings to £22,000 a year. When George Henry junior died in 1966, Richard took up the reins at the age of 21.
As the business entered its third generation, the firm changed its name to Richard Howarth and Son Ltd as Simon joined the team. Over the next 10 years, the company developed a chain of 10 shops and in 1980 Howarth Foodservice was formed with new premises at Cross Green Road in Dalton.
Sitting in the boardroom – surrounded by sepia-tinted pictures from the company’s past and portraits of his predecessors – Simon recalls how the company was not slow to diversify where it saw an opportunity. It was one of the first companies to introduce domestic and commercial microwave ovens in the UK, for example.
Richard Howarth, who is now company chairman, was a founder of Fairway Food Service, a group of more than 20 independent businesses who came together to boost their buying power with suppliers. Simon joined the Fairway board as a director for the first time this year.
Over the years, the company moved away from greengrocery to frozen foods, chilled products such as cheese, sliced meats and quiches, and “ambient” products like crisps, drinks sugar and custard powder. It also has an own-brand range of products.
The wholesaler supplies restaurants, pubs and coffee shops, hospitals and colleges. Major customers include Shire Hotels and the Bagel Nash chain. For many years, it supplied Kirklees schools – and is now looking at resuming a service for schools and care homes.