Posted: 15/02/2019

Artisan cheesemakers could lose thousands as Bridgehead folds

Philip Stansfield in a maturing room.

British artisan cheesemakers stand to lose tens of thousands of pounds in bad debt and incomplete orders after one of the country’s largest distributors of speciality cheese to the supermarkets went bust before Christmas.

Wrexham-based Bridgehead Food Partners was set up in 2004 as an artisan cheese distributor to Sainsbury’s. It grew to also supply Tesco, Asda, Morrisons and the Co-op, but was wound up in December.

The timing of the closure meant that many British artisan cheeses did not feature on supermarket shelves during the key festive trading period, leaving cheesemakers with large amounts of stock that had been produced for Christmas.

The Cornish Cheese Company is owed £5k, according to liquidator Leonard Curtis, but owner Phil Stansfield said the true amount was much higher.  

“It’s totally screwed up the Christmas business because we’ve not been able to get our cheese in to the retailers in December, which is our biggest month of the year,” said Stansfield. “We lost half our turnover in December and we’ve had dozens of emails from the public asking why our cheese wasn’t in supermarkets. We’re now sitting on 7-8 tonnes of cheese that should have gone out but hasn’t.” He added that he was hoping to start supplying supermarkets again soon through distributor Bradbury’s.

Another cheesemaker, who is also owed several thousand pounds by Bridgehead, told FFD that he did not expect to see any of the debt repaid. “It’s not going to bring my business down, but it does mean we have to work that much harder to make it up,” he said. “Supplying the supermarkets helps us run more efficiently – larger volumes make us more cost-effective. It helps cover some overheads and reduce our production costs so there are longer term consequences if those orders are lost permanently.” 

Leonard Curtis, the firm in charge of Bridgehead’s liquidation, did not respond to questions about why the business failed or whether creditors would be paid. However, the liquidator has sold the company’s cutting and packing operation in Wrexham to cheesemaker Belton Farm. The deal will save 10 jobs and create a new company: Belton Packing & Logistics.

Belton is owed around £63k as one of the creditors of Bridgehead. Other notable creditors include Lynher Dairies, which is owed more than £17k, Ford Farm (£19k) and FW Read (£8k).

This story appeared in the January/February issue of Fine Food Digest. You can read more on the digital edition here.

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