Not many children would turn down an opportunity to pop into a biscuit factory after school. For James Morris, that sweet dream was in fact a daily reality. Now grown up, he has joined the family business with his parents. Led by his father David, they’re continuing James’s grandfather’s legacy of producing biscuits for brands across the country and now Europe. Three generations in, the cookie is showing no signs of crumbling.

We caught up with David, Managing Director of Moorlands UK Ltd, and his son James via Zoom to talk about all things business and keeping it in the family.

Family run, since 1986

Moorlands UK Ltd was set up by James’s grandfather after he took early retirement in 1986. Back then, he and his wife baked biscuits during the week and filled them into a caravan at weekends to sell at markets.

It all started with a small unit and just one oven. Soon after, they landed a Cadbury’s contract when another supplier couldn’t take it on. David explains, “that’s how we started to grow, with this little contract. And it grew from 50,000 biscuits every week to 250,000 biscuits every 2 - 3 days”. Now, biscuits are baked 24 hours a day and they get through one 16kg bag of flour every 10 minutes.

They’re committed to creating the perfect biscuit for every customer and have collected a vast backlog of successful recipes to tweak. James assures us, though, that “nothing’s ever 100% the same. We’ll never do a copycat product”. Recently they found the original handwritten family recipe book from the Eighties. “It’s weird to think that something from 1986 can still be popular in 2020”, James comments. It just goes to show the enduring appeal of biscuits and how the family’s passion is felt constantly in the business.

“Growing up I used to come home from school and go to the factory with mum”, James happily tells us. He started night shifts at 18 and continued as he pursued a car engineering course. His dad, David, wanted him to have other options too, and the family business was never forced on him. But in this family’s case, the smell of baking biscuits is more than just a memory of home: it’s their life.

David explains that running a family business means “we get family time even when we’re working hard”, and the dynamic can be more compassionate and understanding. When he had to take two unexpected weeks off earlier in the year, James felt he had flexibility that other companies may not have offered. “Working with family you get that little leeway”, he says, “and all your hard work is paid back over time”.

If you're thinking about what working with family is like, James offers this advice: “if it’s the right sector and you think it’s in the best interest for your family, then do it. But you’ve got to be able to take the hard times with the good”.

Networks are the key to success

The people they’ve met over the years have certainly contributed to Moorlands’ growth. “We never advertise to anybody. It’s all come through word of mouth”, as David puts it. They even got rid of their website as they’re not competing with bakeries. They understand their niche and he explains clearly that "brand doesn't mean anything to them. It's more valuable to the customer to have their own brand”.

When COVID-19 arrived, “the bigger companies just shelved everything” according to David, so orders were cancelled and business started to slow. A few of their customers were linked to the tourism industry, so understandably didn’t require their usual big orders. However, despite these setbacks, a useful introduction with somebody who worked for Fox’s meant their lockdown fortunes were up.

David told us that “within four days of the first lockdown we were the top biscuit seller on Amazon”. In production terms, he explains that “pre-lockdown we were producing one pallet of biscuits a month. Now we’re making seven pallets a week”. Supply chains have been hit hard during the pandemic and continue to be difficult to manage. Currently there’s a 6-week delay for cardboard boxes, which makes planning production a challenge.

The family is looking to the future, and new premises. They're keen to stay in the same area so they can be flexible for their staff. Both are clear about how much the team matters to them. As David put it: “they looked after us and we owe it to them”. Family, it seems, isn’t just in the blood with Moorlands.

The pair are adamant that what’s in their best interests has to be in their staff’s best interest as well. James sees it like this: “without your staff you haven’t got your business”. They now have nearly 50 people on payroll and gave them all a voucher in May “to show our appreciation for them working through COVID” says David.

Working capital funds growth

Cash flow is important in their business. Without the funds to buy their ingredients, have the right number of machines and pay staff on time, fulfilling orders wouldn’t be possible. David was going through his options with his bank, Barclays. He told us: “I spoke to my relationship manager at Barclays and she said try these guys”. Like that, we became a part of helping them keep up with the demands of this year.

With many businesses remote working and with staff on furlough, it was difficult to get customers to confirm their invoices. We found a workaround together and David enjoys the fact that with a MarketFinance CBILS Revolving Credit Facility “we can pull money when we need it to grow”.

And on the topic of growth? “It’s about finding the right time. You’ve got to take a leap of faith and go for it”, says David. They’ve been working hard to make their recipes vegan friendly, which they now all are, and are moving towards plastic-free products and biodegradable packaging, which is coming next year.

Being a small but mighty team gives them the flexibility to jump straight into new opportunities, especially without worrying about cash flow. With the help of MarketFinance, “we can just crack on", says David. We’re delighted to be a part of your journey, and the family business.

If you'd like to get in touch with the team at Moorlands, reach out to James at james@moorlandsukltd.co.uk.