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30/07/2014

Bridges Ventures invests in North Wales-based Wholebake

The new investment will support capacity expansion, brand development and the creation of at least 60 jobs in an area of high unemployment

Bridges Ventures (“Bridges”) announces that it has acquired a controlling interest in Wholebake Limited (“Wholebake”), a manufacturer and distributor of great tasting healthier snack bars.This is a selection of Finance Wales’ media releases and those of our portfolio and partners.

Bridges are backing the existing management team, Mark Gould, CEO, and Richard Shaw, Operations Director, who will continue to drive the business forward.

Founded in 1996, Wholebake currently employs 104 people at its sites in Corwen and Wrexham, in North Wales. Since Mark and Richard acquired the business in 2011, with the backing of Finance Wales, they have successfully grown it from £4m in 2011 to over £11m of sales in the year to 31 March 2014.

A growing number of consumers are searching for health and convenience with food made only with natural ingredients. In addition, active healthy lifestyles are increasing interest in convenient energy and reducing or avoiding gluten. Wholebake, which manufactures and markets its 9bar brand as well as co-packing for other growing brands, has experienced rapid growth in sales in recent years (with over 50% growth again so far this year).

Bridges identified Wholebake as an ideal investment for its fund with the potential to deliver strong returns for investors as well as impact, through significant job creation and by supporting the growth of the healthier snacking sector. The investment has been led by Oliver Wyncoll, Partner, who has years of investment experience in the sector, and was a board member of both Dorset Cereals and Tyrrells Crisps, and Khidhr Shafiq, Associate. The Bridges investment provides a full exit for Finance Wales, and provides additional funding to support ongoing growth and new capacity, and will create at least 60 high quality jobs over the next 3-5 years, in an area of higher unemployment.

Bridges has further strengthened the management team, with the appointment of Jaclyn Kelly as CFO. Jaclyn was until recently FD of Soreen, before it was acquired by Samworth Brothers earlier this year. In addition, Peter Farquhar, former CEO of Dorset Cereals and Chairman of Clipper Teas, has been appointed to the board as a Non-Executive Director. Peter brings significant commercial experience which will help the business to develop additional distribution and build increased consumer awareness for 9bar.

This is the latest of six investments made so far from the Bridges Sustainable Growth Fund III, which last year completed its final close at £125m. The fund focuses on the provision of growth capital to ambitious businesses that generate impact through the products they sell in certain sectors, such as health & well-being, education & skills, or the environment. It also supports consumer champion businesses serving underserved markets or companies building economic dynamism in under-invested areas.

Mark Gould, CEO of Wholebake, said: “We are excited by the opportunity of working with Oliver and the whole Bridges team to fulfil the potential that we see in our business. Healthy snacking is an exciting market, which we expect to continue to develop rapidly in the UK and internationally.”

Oliver Wyncoll, Partner, Bridges Sustainable Growth Funds, said: “We have been impressed by Mark, his team and the quality of Wholebake’s products. These natural products are bang on trend with consumer demand for great tasting, higher protein, gluten-free snacking. With our investment, we hope to widen the strong and loyal following that 9bar has developed and open-up new sales channels which will create many new jobs in North Wales.”

With a 5.5 times return over the lifetime of our investment, this is our most profitable exit to date and we look forward to backing more successful Welsh businesses like Wholebake in future.

Jerry MobbsDeputy Fund Manager

Jerry Mobbs, deputy fund manager at Finance Wales said: “A package of debt and equity investment from Finance Wales helped Mark and Richard’s MBO in 2011 and they’ve successfully grown the business since they took the helm.

“Profits have more than doubled and they’ve also more than tripled their workforce in Corwen as they’ve expanded Wholebake’s own-brand and contract-manufacturing operations.

"Wholebake is a real success story, demonstrating the difference Finance Wales’ backing can make and we hope it continues to go from strength to strength, creating more Welsh jobs.

"With a 5.5 times return over the lifetime of our investment, this is our most profitable exit to date and we look forward to backing more successful Welsh businesses like Wholebake in future.”