Rank Hovis McDougall
Company typePublic
SuccessorPremier Foods
HeadquartersMarlow, United Kingdom
Key people
J. Arthur Rank (Chairman)

RHM plc, formerly Rank Hovis McDougall, was a United Kingdom food business. The company owned numerous brands, particularly for flour, where its core business started, and for consumer food products. It was listed on the London Stock Exchange and was once a constituent of the FTSE 100 Index but was acquired by Premier Foods in March 2007.


Early years

The company was founded by Joseph Rank in 1875 as flour milling business when he rented a small windmill.[1] He initially lost money and therefore took a co-tenancy at West's Holderness Corn Mill. In 1885 he built a mechanically-driven flour mill in Hull in order to beat competition from abroad.[2] He used steel rollers instead of mill stones thereby producing six sacks of flour an hour instead of one and a half. In 1888 he built another steel-roller plant in Lincolnshire, and soon after, built a more modern plant, producing 20 sacks of flour an hour.[3]

As he strove for greater productivity he installed equipment that produced 30 sacks of flour an hour, and then 40 sacks an hour.[4] He also set up agencies to distribute his flour in parts of England where it previously had not been sold. In May 1899 the business was incorporated as a private company under the name Joseph Rank Limited.[5]

In 1902, Joseph Rank made his first trip to the United States to understand and beat his American competitors.[6] Soon after his trip abroad, the company built mills in London and Cardiff. In 1912, a mill in Birkenhead was built to supply the needs of Ireland and northwestern England. Rank then moved the corporate headquarters of the company from Yorkshire to London.[7]

During World War II the company employed 3,000 workers, many of them women working while their husbands were away at war. In 1935 Joseph Rank was awarded the Freedom of the City of Hull, in part because of a trust fund he had set up in Hull to help "poor persons of good character."[8]

During the 1920s, Rank expanded into Scotland and Ireland. He also formed the British Isles Transport Company Limited to facilitate transport of his products around the country. The company was first listed on the London Stock Exchange in 1933.[9] In 1943 James Rank became chairman following his father's death.

In 1945 James Rank, the new chairman, assisted by Cecil Loombe, who had become a director, set about rebuilding mills destroyed by bombing, which included the new Baltic Flour Mill at Gateshead, opened in 1950.

In 1952, James Rank was succeeded by his brother J. Arthur Rank as chairman. Arthur explored ways of improving quality control in food production founding RHM Technology and its research centre at High Wycombe.[10]

Formation of RHM

In 1962 the company acquired the Hovis-McDougall Company, founded in 1957 after the merger of Hovis Bread Flour Company, founded in 1898, and McDougall Brothers, founded in 1864 by Alexander, Isaac, Arthur, John and James Thomas, with its famous Hovis brand of bread and became Rank Hovis McDougall Limited.[11] In 1968 RHM went on to buy the Cerebos food group, which brought with it a number of popular food brands as well as interests in France, Argentina, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, the United States and South Africa. In 1969 Arthur's nephew, Joseph Rank, took over the chairmanship of the company.

Joseph Rank encouraged research work in crustacea farming, cereal and seed production, and wheat hybrids. He also pioneered protein production from starch. In 1984 the company established a joint venture with ICI known as Marlow Foods. It was Marlow Foods that created the meat substitute product Quorn.[12]

In 1979, RHM divested its Canadian business to Campbell Soup Company.[13]

In 1981 Sir Peter Reynolds took over as chairman from Joseph Rank. The company made a number of important acquisitions during the 1980s in the United Kingdom, the United States, and the Far East including the purchase in 1987 of Avana Group, which was renamed Avana Bakeries Limited.[14]

In 1992 the company was purchased by Tomkins plc who then sold it on to Doughty Hanson & Co in 2000.[15] The company remained in private equity ownership and sold a number of non-core business, including bakery retail chain Three Cooks. In July 2005 it was relisted on the London Stock Exchange.[16]

In March 2007, RHM was acquired by Premier Foods for £1.2 billion.[17] Premier made a loss in 2012 and cut production.[18]


Prior to takeover, the group was grouped into three divisions: Bread Bakeries, Culinary Brands and Cakes & Customer Partnerships. Premier Foods is in the process of[when?] integrating Culinary Brands, Cakes and Customer Partnerships into its core business unit, although Bread Bakeries (including Rank Hovis milling) are to remain as a stand-alone business unit for the time being, because of the different supply chain demands such as high volume and the short shelf life of bread.

List of brands

The Rank name

A common misconception is that the "Rank" in the name signifies an acquired business of the Rank Organisation. This is understandable as Rank themselves were at one point a highly diversified conglomerate, and were apt to rename acquired or joint venture business by prefixing them with the name "Rank", e.g. Rank Xerox. There is a link, but the "Rank" reference is to Joseph Rank, father of Lord Rank, who merely inherited the business upon his father's death. It always remained a separately run enterprise.

See also


  1. ^ Burnett, R.G., Page 24
  2. ^ Burnett, R.G., Page 41
  3. ^ Burnett, R.G., Page 56
  4. ^ Burnett, R.G., Page 119
  5. ^ Burnett, R.G., Page 105
  6. ^ Burnett, R.G., Page 114
  7. ^ Burnett, R.G., Page 115
  8. ^ Burnett, R.G., Page 202
  9. ^ Burnett, R.G., Page 213
  10. ^ Better test for GM foods BBC News, 6 April 1999
  11. ^ Hovis: History
  12. ^ How Quorn was born in Marlow Bucks Free Press, 18 October 2007
  13. ^ "Worth their salt: a history of Cerebos - Let's Look Again". letslookagain.com. 5 February 2015. Retrieved 24 August 2023.
  14. ^ Just desserts for RHM Management Today, 1 December 1992
  15. ^ Tomkins loses buns-to-guns tag with sale of RHM to Doughty Hanson The Independent, 22 July 2000
  16. ^ RHM shares surge after IPO draws institutions[dead link] Forbes, 19 July 2005
  17. ^ "RHM agrees £1.2bn Premier Foods bid". The Times. 4 December 2006. Archived from the original on 2 April 2007. Retrieved 28 December 2008.
  18. ^ Schimroszik, Nadine (20 November 2012). "Hovis owner to cut 900 jobs". The Guardian. Retrieved 16 September 2018.