Ross Breeders Ltd was the outcome of a series of mergers and takeovers in British poultry production. The name was inherited from the Ross family in Grimsby. It was developed gradually in Grimsby from 1920 when Thomas Ross started a small fish merchandizing company. It was developed into a major foods company by his son John Carl Ross after his father’s retirement in 1928. The company diversified into trawling, fish processing, and later into food processing in general. The company bought out rival Young’s in 1959 and, after a series of takeovers and mergers and de-mergers, formed part of what is now Young’s Bluecrest, the UK’s leader in the frozen fish sector. The Ross brand remains common in the retail frozen fish market.
At its height under the Chairmanship of Carl Ross the Group had businesses involved in fish catching, fish distribution, poultry, frozen foods, fresh fruit and vegetables, retail fruit chain, ship building and engineering, refrigeration, chemical products, farm services, motor trading, heavy transport, printing and food import and export.
The biggest step the Ross Group took to broaden its operations in the food field was the acquisition of Sterling Poultry Products Ltd in May 1961. Chunky Chicks (Nichols) Ltd achieved very rapid growth in five years and was the subject of a takeover by E.F. Fairbairn Ltd in March 1962. Fairbairn was having a downturn in profits due to two outbreaks of fowl pest in 1959 and 1961. Large numbers of their breeding stock had to be disposed and to correct this downturn the Fairbairn Board was receptive to a takeover by the Ross Group so as to take advantage of larger facilities on offer. The takeover was formalised on 25th August 1962.
The Imperial Group started diversifying out of a reliance on tobacco and began building its poultry division in 1969 when it took over Ross Poultry, and later Allied Farm Foods (Buxted and Nitrovit) and finally Eastwood’s broiler and egg empire. Ross Poultry acquired Sykes International in 1972.
The broad plan of the acquisitions was to create efficiency through horizontal and vertical integration. The breeding activities of the Sterling Division of Ross Poultry were given recognition in 1978 with the formation of Ross Breeders Ltd. Imperial Group divested itself of poultry interests in 1982 when it sold the broiler (Buxted), eggs (Daylay), animal feed (Nitrovit) and breeding (Ross Breeders) operations to Hillsdown Holdings. Hillsdown sold Ross Breeders to BC Partners in 1998 who then formed the holding company Aviagen under which banner through acquisitions were the Arbor Acres, Nicholas Turkeys, Indian River brands. Although the Ross Breeder name came to an end in 1998 the Ross brand continues.