Gardner Merchant Company Profile 1886-1994

28 December 2015
Gardner Merchant Company Profile 1886-1994

View the Gardner Merchant history from 1994 to 2000 here


  • November 1994 GM wins one of the first Ministry of facilities management contracts to be awarded overseas. It teams up with facilities management firm Serco to run a catering and support service contract at seven Hong Kong locations.

  • November 1994Distinguished Operations Award for its professional development of an international foodservice business. It pulls out of Bedfordshire's civic catering contractseven months after taking it over.

  • October 1994 GM buys German contract caterer Telcat, adding 30 contracts in Hannover to the 70 it already holds in the country. The company reports a net gain of 175 contracts worldwide in the half-year to 31 July, when pre-tax profits grow by 13.7% to £26.9m on a 9.1% rise in turnover to £555.7m.

  • September 1994 Town & County wins a 10-year contract at Hampton Court Palace plus a three-year contract at London's National Gallery (in concert with sandwich bar chain PrÁªt Á Manger). GM adds the KFC and Dunkin' Donuts brands its leisure sites in addition to the McDonald's and HÁ¤agen-Dazs brands it offers at sports events. It operates its own in-house pizza, burger and deli brands.

  • September 1994 GM's Scottish division wins three contracts with US-based manufacturers in Strathclyde:](/articles/30338) National Semiconductors in Greenock; Haemonetics in Bothwell; and ICC in East Kilbride.

  • September 1994 GM [shelves plans for an autumn stock market flotation ](/articles/32055)for an estimated £600m while the rumoured £700m sale to Granada looks unlikely. GM adds Institution Supplies of Leeds (ISL), a catering equipment company with annual sales of £8m, to its Lockhart Catering Equipment business.

  • August 1994 GM scoops [two overseas deals ](/articles/32419)- a $3.7m-a-year contract at ABC Television in New York and a 12-year extension worth A$200m at Sydney Opera House in Australia.

  • August 1994 Town & County wins a contract at Chatham Historic Dockyard in Kent, and renews its deal at Kew Gardens for a further 10 years. GM's three event caterers (including Ring & Brymer and Gilmour & Pether) now hold a large slice of the corporate hospitality market.

  • August 1994 GM's 350 Scottish outlets exceed £50m in annual turnover with 20 new contract wins worth £300,000 in the past six months (including the new Perth Library) and the retention of several key deals. The newest, at the Department of Social Security's Information Technology Service Agency, is its 26th Government agency win in 18 months.

  • July 1994 Speculation mounts that Granada plans to buy GM and merge it with Sutcliffe, the UK's third largest contract catering, which it bought from P&O for £360m in March 1993 when Sutcliffe had a £29m turnover. Autumn is the top tip for GM's planned £600m stock market flotation.

  • July 1994 In the half year to July, GM achieved sales of £556m and pre-interest - profits of £26.9m.

  • July 1994 GM's market-leading Dutch subsidiary, Van Hecke, takes over SVK Bedrijfscatering of The Hague, a foundation with 13 contracts that are transferred to secure jobs, with no exchange of money.

  • June 1994 GM becomes one of the top five US caterers with the $100m (£64.3m) purchase of Alabama-based Morrison's Hospitality'sbusiness, industry and education (but not healthcare) arms. The 400 contracts (including Universal Studios in California and General Motors' Saturn car plant) account for half of Morrison's $430.1m turnover.

  • June 1994 GM buys £4m-turnover event caterer Gilmour & Pether, which was founded in 1983 by David Pether and Patrick Gilmour. Clients include Silverstone race course in Northamptonshire, Cardiff Arms Park rugby stadium and London's Queen's Club. Other recent stadia wins include Blackburn Rovers Football Club and Kirklees Stadium in Huddersfield (Ring & Brymer) and Bath Rugby Football Club (Town & County).

  • June 1994 GM wins a five-year facilities management contract across [eight Ministry of Defence sites ](/articles/29314)in Sussex and Kent. It acquires contracts at two Shropshire schoolsand publishes its School Meals Survey for 1994.

  • April 1994 GM boosts turnover by 3.5% to £1.015b in the year to the year to 31 January 1994. Pre-tax profits soar by 50% to £46.9m (from £31.3m in 1992). The group ends the year with a net gain of 161 contracts worldwide and expects to add another 300 this year.

  • March 1994 GM wins a catering contract at HM Treasury in London's Whitehall, adding to recent government wins at the Child Support Agency, Ordnance Survey and Registrars of Scotland. Existing contracts include the Inland Revenue, the Benefits Agency, Customs & Excise and the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency.

  • March 1994 In a landmark TUPE judgement, a Southampton industrial tribunal finds that 63 GM staff were unfairly dismissed last July when a contract at three IBM sites switched to Bromwich Catering. GM calculates that total payments to the employees could top £500,000 while Bromwich Catering describes the judgement as ‘unfair'.

  • March 1994 GM plans to offer 6,800 unit managers the chance to buy a stake in the company when it floats on the stock market this autumn. The group, which employs 47,000 staff in 18 countries, made an operating profit of £35m on a £986m turnover in the year to 31 March 1993.

  • February 1994 GM [buys £4m-turnover Kielholz Catering in Dusseldorf, Germany ](/articles/31169)for an initial £1.63m. Kielholz's 29 contracts (including Nissan Motors, AEG and Fuji) brings Gardner Merchant's German total to 49.

  • February 1994 Gardner Merchant rebids for its £4m-a-year staff catering contract with Midland Bank, which has now been split into five regions for the retender.

  • January 1994 UK market leader Gardner Merchant holds about 3,000 catering contracts in Britain, 1,750 in the B&I sector. In contrast to the past, 55% of new contracts signed in 1993 are in the public sector or leisure.

  • January 1994 Buckingham Palace garden party caterer [Town & County wins back its Royal Warrants ](/articles/5888)from the Queen and Queen Mother.

  • 1994 GM's move into China, Russia and Kazakhstan gives it more than 6,200 outlets in 20 countries. Sodexho buys 20% of Corrections Corporation of America and [moves into new markets ]( as Japan, Russia, South Africa and Eastern Europe - its addition of 25 new markets in less than three years gives it a presence in 60-plus countries.

  • 1994 First-half pre-tax profits at GM are up 13.7% to £26.9m.

  • November 1993 GM strikes an £80m deal with Countrywide Catering Distributors to supply all of its outlets for the next three years. Countrywide was handling around [45% of GM business ](/articles/30234)before.

  • 1993 GM's attempts to set up a central purchasing deal with direct service organisations are scuppered by the problem of revealing prices to potential contract competitors.

  • 1993 GM's pre-tax profits for 1993 soar by 50% to £46.9m on a £1b turnover. GM subsidiary Ring & Brymer moves into sports stadia with a hospitality catering contract at Edinburgh's Murrayfield stadium.

  • December 1992 - Forte [confirms the £402m sale of Gardner Merchant ]( an MBO in preference to a rival £527m bid from Compass that included Forte Airport Services (the aborted bid costs Compass £3m in fees). The MBO is backed by private equity and banking groups headed by Cinven and Bankers Trust. Forte retains a 24.8% stake in GM while 1,000 senior managers from the 46,000-strong GM workforce are [granted a stake ]( the £350m-turnover group. GM comprises five businesses: contract catering, specialist catering, Kelvin offshore services, Lockhart Catering Equipment and France Production.

  • October 1992 Forte looks set to [sell Gardner Merchant to an management buy-out team ]( by GM chief executive Garry Hawkes and finance director Iain Carslaw despite higher offers from other sources. The deal, which will not include the airport services business, values GM at £380m.

  • 1992 Gardner Merchant [buys royal and event caterer Town & County ](/articles/5888)out of receivership.

  • September 1991 Forte decides to [hive off its Gardner Merchant business ]( its £1b debt. Alongside alternate plans for a stock market flotation, potential buyers emerge over the next 12 months including Citicorp Venture Capital and Wall Street's Kohlberg Kravis Roberts. Compass and ARA Services makes a £590m offer for the business (including the airline catering business) that Forte rejects as too low. There is a serious approach by Sodexho of France (for £400m) and expressions of interest from Granada and P&O's Sutcliffe Catering arm.

  • 1990 Gardner Merchant and Sodexho of France discuss setting up a joint venture between their highly complementary businesses.

    The 1880s - the 1980s

  • 1989 George Lehrian becomes managing director of Gardner Merchant's events caterer Ring & Brymer. He retires in 1993 but dies of cancer in January 2000.

  • January 1987 GM subsidiary Kelvin Catering feeds 3,500 delegates at the Islamic Conference in Kuwait, spending £2.5m-£3m on food and staff wages.

  • February 1986 GM celebrates its centenary year. It now employs 27,000 staff serving 2,700 clients.

  • 1986 Garry Hawkes takes the Special Award in the annual Cateys.

  • 1985-1989 Sodexho buys Boston-based vending machine and restaurant business Seiler 1985 followed by San Francisco's Food Dimensions and several other companies that are later regrouped as Sodexho USA (which includes its Spirit Cruises subsidiary). In the late 1980s, it acquires a 20% stake in European services provider Wagon Lits but sells its share in 1993 for FFr 400m after losing majority control to hotel group Accor.

  • 1983 Sodexho floats on the Euronext Paris Bourse.

  • 1980 Sodexho establishes its first subsidiaries in North and South America.

  • 1977 Gardner Merchant wins [35 new acceptances and opens 26 new contracts](/articles/11137) at the end of 1977. New clients include Warwick Castle; the Peat, Marwick and Mitchell management training centre in Hampshire; Barclays Bank Bullion Centre at Warrington; and Monkton Combe Public School near Bath.

  • 1971-78 Sodexho starts catering for hospitals in Belgium in 1971; expands into Italy and Spain; moves into remote site catering in Africa and the Middle East in 1975; launches its Sodexho Pass service voucher service in 1978; and moves into river boats and harbour cruise ships in France (the Bellon family had a history in cruise ships and luxury liners).

  • 1970s Gardner Merchant acquires the Kenley stately house in Surrey, which becomes its training centre.

  • 1970 Gardner Merchant becomes part of the Trusthouse Forte (THF) hotels and catering empire following the merger of Forte Holdings and Trust Houses Group. Forte's catering interests including Forte Airport Services and [event caterer Ring & Brymer](

  • 1967 Sodexho [moves into remote site management ]( it wins a "multiservices" contract from CNES in French Guiana.

  • 1966 Pierre Bellon [invests FFr 100,000 ]( founding Sodexho SA (Société d'Exploitation Hôtelière) in Marseilles, France to cater for institutions, businesses, schools and hospitals. Bellon, takes the role of chairman and chief executive.

  • 1966 Trust Houses merges John Gardner and Peter Merchant to create Gardner Merchant, the UK's biggest industrial caterer. GM expands across the world through new contracts and acquisitions.

  • August 1965 The enlarged group reports an interim turnover of £14.15m and pre-tax profit of £270,000 (forecast to rise to £670,000 during the full year to 31 October). The business includes catering at schools and hospitals, premises at Epsom racecourse, restaurants on trunk roads under a contract with Agip, Little Chef units in France, and a 50% share in Highway Restaurants with Blue Star Garages. The group also operates catering food and equipment suppliers and holds a 33% stake in Safeway Food Stores.

  • March 1965 John Gardner reports a fall in 13-month pre-tax profits to £287,891 (down from £353,286). The purchase of Lockhart Group (including Peter Merchant and British Automatic Co, the UK's biggest vending company) has doubled the size and scope of the business.

  • October 1964 John Gardner (London) becomes an independent subsidiary of Trust Houses when it acquires Lockhart Group (including Peter Merchant) and other catering supply and ancillary companies from Trust Houses in exchange for the issue of 2,800,000 ordinary share.

  • May 1964 - John Gardner (London) reports a pre-tax profit of £353,286 (up from £255,114) in the year to 30 September 1963 (the figures include recently-acquired Staff Caterers and Canteen Contractors, set up in 1936 by Nathan Abrahams who co-founded the Hotel and Catering Institute in 1949). The business encompasses canteens, restaurants, outdoor catering at Ascot, the Derby and Henley, Kenco Coffee Company, and Hotel Equipment Company. The group is also seeking motel sites.

  • 1963 Garry Hawkes joins Peter Merchant. He becomes managing director of Gardner Merchant in 1978 (at the age of 37).

  • 1962 John Gardner rebrands the Kenya Coffee Company as Kenco Coffee Company. It bought the London-based firm (set up in 1921) after the war, acquiring what may have been the UK's first branded chain of coffee shops plus a roasting plant in Earlsfield. The group sells 11 John Gardner and Prideaux's grocery stores for £1.2m that allow US supermarket chain Safeway to make its UK debut.

  • 1961 Trust Houses Group buys Lockhart Catering Equipment and its subsidiary, Merchant Group, which is now developing the Little Chef concept created by Sprite Touring caravan manufacturer Sam Alper in 1958.

  • 1920s-1950s John Gardner is running a retail and wholesale supply business and a chain of restaurants (including the chic Scott's seafood eaterie) and is serving meals to factories and offices. Cigar importer Herbert William "Peter" Merchant has acquired a business serving tea and buns to building sites. Both become key suppliers of canteen meals for workers in line with government legislation at the outbreak of war 2in September 1939 and are operating 1,500 contracts by 1945. Major wins include Ford Motor Company (1930) and the Olympic Games (1948) for John Gardner and Earls Court Exhibition Centre (1957) for Peter Merchant.

  • 1886 John Toulson Gardner sets up a butcher's shop in Leadenhall Market, London and expands into ship's chandlery. In 1904, the company wins a contract to [supply food to Russian ships **anchored off Hull during the Russo-Japanese War.

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