CH&Co and HCM Group (Host Catermasters Group) have merged to form a new major player on the UK foodservice scene with a combined turnover approaching £200m.
The newly formed CH&CO Group, comprising a 4,500-strong team delivering services to more than 400 operations across the UK and Ireland, will be headed up by HCM chief executive Bill Toner, who assumes the new title of group CEO.
Meanwhile, CH&CO founders Robyn and Tim Jones will continue in their previous roles of founder and chairman respectively. The consolidation of the two businesses ends more than a decade of speculation that the couple would ultimately sell up.
Toner said the merger will enable the companies, which between them have secured new and retained business worth £42m since January, to combine their assets and talent and have the financial strength to compete even more vigorously.
"We are so much stronger together but although we're now a bigger company, we're still made up of a number of smaller, well-established, high calibre brands focused on providing excellent food and service, and with a reputation for looking after clients and customers," he said.
CH&CO is made up of Ampersand, Charlton House, Lusso, Chester Boyd, Via 360 and ITA, and last September it announced an 18% rise in turnover to £111m. Host, Catermasters and Couture form HCM Group, which was created when Host and Catermasters merged in August 2014, taking the annual turnover of the firm to more than £60m. Host had previously acquired concession caterer Couture in 2012.
"We cover the spectrum from consumer and fully commercial to fixed cost catering for some of the UK's leading brands and organisations across the business, charity, leisure, education and healthcare sectors," added Toner.
"Combined, we have an even stronger management team with the credentials to expertly manage business for clients in all these sectors and we now have the scale to successfully mobilise the largest group contracts and provide a real alternative to the big companies."
Robyn Jones, who was made an OBE in the 2010 New Year's Honours list, said that the merger was an important element of determining the long-term legacy of the company she and husband Tim started in 1991. The couple had consistently denied rumours that they were looking to sell the company, which had itself acquired several businesses over the years.
"As we've been working closely over the past months bringing the deal together, it's become increasingly clear that the senior management teams of both companies are working well as one team and share the same values for client and customer relationships, corporate responsibility, and team development, and that's good news for all our stakeholders," she explained.
"Whilst a merger like this will bring some inevitable change while we integrate our companies, it is also a time of opportunity for our teams as we adapt and fine-tune our focus on providing the best food and service to our customers and clients."
Tim Jones described the consolidation of small and medium-sized independent operators as a means to fuel growth and compete effectively with larger companies, offering an increasingly attractive option in a today's challenging marketplace.
He said: "We're starting to see more consolidation in our industry, some of which is through new entrants to our market, and we want to be leading this because there are only so many opportunities to build on this scale.
"Between our two companies, we have an excellent track record of long-standing client relationships and we're now represented across a wider range of hospitality sub-sectors than either company was before, which also gives us the operational scale on a national basis to compete even more effectively.
"Both organisations have excellent client retention records and we have a very experienced management team across our new company with in-depth experience of mergers and acquisitions, and post-deal integration. We're very confident that this merger will go smoothly and both companies will become even stronger as one entity."
CH&Co's current group chief executive Stuart Lawson is expected to leave the business following the merger, having overseen a number of strategic changes and brand reviews within the company over the past 18 months, while the rest of the existing executive management teams, of both CH&Co and HCM, are expected to remain largely in position.
The new CH&Co Group is predominantly management owned but the deal has also been funded partly by MML Capital, which provides capital to private businesses for expansion, acquisitions, recapitalisations and management buyouts.
Richard Mayers and Ian Wallis from MML will also join the CH&Co Group board as non-executive directors and provide counsel on growth strategy, while other non-executive members of the board include Elizabeth McMeikan and Simon Hodson.
Is it time for a change?See all the current contract catering vacancies available with The Caterer Jobs >>