Frank Horan Director
Nicola Divers Director
Unicorn Ingredients has achieved a lot in its first decade, becoming a £30m turnover company operating in 35 countries around the world. And the future promises more of the same…
Ten years ago, Frank Horan and Nikki Divers had a vision of the way an ingredients wholesaler should be run. Of setting up a hands-on company which always put the customer first. Both had been working with seeds and pulses for 20 years. They knew the industry inside out, they were passionate about what they did. The timing was as right as it ever would be.
So, the two started to look for suitable premises, opening the Unicorn Ingredients office in Epsom, Surrey in 2008. They have not looked back since.
The company has seen successive years of growth every year, with turnover set to be £30m this year, up 10% year on year. Unicorn now operates in 35 countries globally and has satellite offices in China, opened in 2011, and India, opened in 2016.
Many key products are sourced from these countries and having a local base helps to manage sourcing challenges and monitor quality direct with local suppliers.
In 2016 Unicorn also opened a European office in Germany, as Germany is one of the largest European markets for seeds, with great links to mainland Europe.
Unicorn attained the highly-regarded BRC for Agents & Brokers accreditation, in 2015, as well as Soil Association organic certification, so its customers can enjoy total confidence in its products. And there are now more products than ever to enjoy. The years have seen steady growth, from launch when a basic range of five or six seeds and pulses were sold.
Over the ten years the range has specialised into seeds and become more complex. So, now there may be five or six variations of basics, such as sunflower seeds or sesame seeds, to meet specialist requirements of individual customers.
With a commodity business, no-one is every going to have a quiet life and Frank says that the company never stands still “There has been huge volatility in prices, everything has doubled and halved in price at least once.”
Many trends have come and gone and shaped the business over the ten years. The Glycaemic Index trend led to a boom in demand for seeded breads; there were issues over GM seed supplies from North America which led to a change of suppliers. More recently, gluten free diets and general allergen control have become huge challenges.
A lot of Unicorn’s supply is now from single source facilities, in the past multiple products came through the same production lines. This, combined with the BRC and Soil Association accreditations, helps reassure customers that there will be no possibility of cross-contamination of products. Over the years seeded products have become mainstream, which can only be good news for a seeds’ specialist. As the first decade comes to an end, the plan for the next ten years is “more of the same”.
Frank says: “We’ll just keep doing what we are doing, the industry challenges us every day. We will look to slowly expand our range and regional reach in Europe and beyond. We are fundamentally a UK and EU food supply business, in quite a difficult field, and we are focused on keeping the quality up and continuing to strengthen the business.”
Ten years on everything has changed for Unicorn, but at the same time nothing much has changed.