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Founder of scandal-hit chicken firm returns to lead poultry division

Simon Goodley
Photograph: Tim Scrivener/Rex/Shutterstock

The billionaire founder of the country’s largest supplier of supermarket chicken has returned to take day-to-day control of his business empire’s poultry division, less than two years after stepping down following a food standards scandal.

Ranjit Singh Boparan, the co-owner and founder of 2 Sisters Food Group, which supplies about a third of the chicken on UK supermarket shelves, has taken over from Andrew McInnes, who headed up the poultry business for a year.

Boparan reportedly grew frustrated at the slow progress as McInnes attempted to improve his division of 2 Sisters. The group is attempting to concentrate solely on poultry by selling its other food brands such as Fox’s biscuits.

After 25 years in charge of the company, Boparan stepped away from running the food group in February 2018, five months after a Guardian and ITV undercover investigation raised questions over 2 Sisters’ food standards. The investigation prompted the company to suspend production at its West Bromwich chicken plant for five weeks in order to deal with the problems.

While Boparan is officially said to have returned as managing director of poultry on a caretaker basis, company insiders suggested the entrepreneur may be back in charge of running the group’s largest business for good.

One said: “He loves the day to day. He is not about the next yacht or next fast car, he likes his chicken. He’s loving it.”

Two years ago, undercover footage shot by the Guardian and ITV News at 2 Sisters’ West Bromwich chicken plant showed poultry being dropped on the floor and returned to the production line, as well as an instance of labels recording the slaughter dates of birds being changed.

Boparan was called to appear in front of a parliamentary select committee, which concluded the problems identified at the West Bromwich site were “not a one-off” and raised concern at the “apparent laxity of the oversight” at the plant.

A resulting investigation into 2 Sisters by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) highlighted “several process weaknesses and regulatory failures”.

Since the revelations, the business has struggled to turn a profit. In its most recent full-year results to July 2018, 2 Sisters made sales of £1.1bn and a pretax loss of nearly £89m, up from £38m in the previous year. The company’s previous set of quarterly results put 2 Sisters’ net debts at £625m.

The management changes, first reported by Sky News, mean Boparan, as poultry managing director, will effectively report to Ronald Kers, the group’s chief executive. Kers in turn reports to Boparan, as the co-owner of 2 Sisters.

A spokesman for Boparan Holdings said: “The business has posted very encouraging financial results and this is set to continue as we realise our turnaround plan. However, in order to accelerate this plan our senior leaders have decided to take a more hands-on approach.

“Ranjit and Ronald have one clear goal in mind, which is to continue to deliver improved results for the business. Already our changes have seen improved performance and we look forward to delivering our transformation plan for all stakeholders.”

McInnes did not respond to an effort to contact him.