The orange and grapefruit groves around John Taylor’s Florida hacienda gave him the idea for a new business. He was in semi-retirement, having made his first fortune in the 1980s from a bakery business, Freshbake Foods, which he sold to Campbell Soups in 1988. Taylor began looking for ‘the next big thing’ and spotted the growing demand for organic food. He formed partnerships with local Florida fruit farmers accredited for organic production and, in 1994, founded United Foods International to develop a range of chilled fruit and vegetable juices under the Grove Fresh label. The company, now based in Surrey, was an early entrant to the British market for organic juices. Since then, it has expanded on to the Continent through the German fruit-juice producer FSP Frische and its French subsidiary Fraicheur, which it acquired in 1998 for £1.3m. This gave it entry to the non-organic fruit-juice market, since continental Europe is a few years behind Britain in the organic-food revolution. Taylor expanded further on the Continent last year with the acquisition of Fruity King, a Dutch company that sells non-organic juices. These acquisitions, combined with a British boom in organic products, increased sales 186% a year from £770,000 in 1997 to £18m in 2000, when the company had 93 staff. The Continent accounts for £13m of sales. United Foods has also strengthened its position in the fruit-juice market by creating blends such as apple and cranberry that other leading manufacturers do not make. This is the third time that Taylor has built up a multi-million-pound business in the food industry. In the early 1980s he sold his first company, Freshbake Foods, for several million to Borthwicks, the food and drink flavouring supplier. When Borthwicks ran into financial difficulties, Taylor bought back the company for just £1. He then built up Freshbake once again. After floating the company on the stock market and making a number of acquisitions to build up the business and strengthen it, he finally sold it to Campbell Soups for a reported £100m.
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