The furore over supermarkets supplier 2 Sisters Food Group has cast an unwelcome spotlight on “chicken king” Ranjit Singh Boparan, says the Evening Standard. The West Midlands food tycoon has built Britain’s second-largest food empire from scratch while zealously guarding his own privacy. Boparan’s company, known in the trade as 2SFG, reportedly produces one-third of all poultry products consumed in Britain. But after an undercover film revealed a spate of horrors – from poor hygiene standards to the fiddling of food-safety dates – all hell has broken loose.
Three of the UK’s biggest supermarkets have halted deliveries from 2SFG’s West Bromwich plant, where production has been temporarily suspended, reports The Guardian. The Food Standards Agency has launched an investigation. Perhaps worst of all for “the publicity-shy” Boparan, MPs on the Commons environment, food and rural affairs select committee are apparently gunning for a “short, sharp” inquiry to rake over the gruesome entrails of this latest food scandal. That would hardly be the best PR for an empire that, in addition to its nuts-and-bolts poultry business, now also encompasses restaurant chains Harry Ramsden, Ed’s Easy Diner, FishWorks and Giraffe, as well as a raft of consumer brands including Goodfella’s Pizza.
Born in 1966 in Bilston in the West Midlands – he still lives nearby – Boparan left school at 16 with few qualifications and began his career in a butcher’s shop in Birmingham. He founded 2 Sisters in 1993 with a small bank loan, says The Observer. The company, co-owned and run with his wife Baljinder, grew to become a favoured supplier of supermarkets.
The deal that really put him on the map, though, was the 2011 acquisition of Northern Foods, one of Britain’s biggest food suppliers, which had fallen on hard times. The £342m transaction was “the biggest deal of his life” to date, and it doubled sales to £2bn. Northern became the template for a raft of future deals involving struggling food businesses, says the Financial Times. Last year saw him “gobbling up” turkey producer Bernard Matthews – a deal that proved controversial because it involved “taking on the group’s assets without its liabilities”, including pension obligations. He has the reputation of being a tough negotiator. “You don’t often come out the right side of the deal with him,” notes one industry veteran.
Boparan’s sprawling privately held interests, owned via a variety of different vehicles, “have propelled him into the business elite”, says The Guardian. He and Baljinder have made an estimated £544m fortune, according to The Sunday Times. They’ve had their troubles – their son, Antonio, has twice been jailed (for dangerous driving in a crash that left a baby brain-damaged and for actual bodily harm in a brawl). But people who know Boparan describe him as a down-to-earth grafter. “He doesn’t own fancy yachts or drive fast cars. You couldn’t find someone more straightforward,” a colleague told The Observer in 2011. That claim is now being put to the test.