The closure of the Jus Rol factory in Berwick in 2016 came as a massive blow to its 265 workforce and the local economy. The history of Jus Rol pastry and the entrepreneurial skills of its founder Tom Forsyth in creating a world class product are told in the following story.
Tom Forsyth’s family originally owned a bakery in Innerleithen, where Tom along with his brothers joined the family business on leaving school. In the 1930s Tom purchased his own bakery in Coldstream, at 44 High Street. The bakery prospered under his ownership, as did the outside catering business associated with it. It was here that Tom discovered there was a demand for frozen puff pastry, and that was the beginning of the ‘Jus Rol’ as we know it today.
Ingredients became more readily available after the war, and the amount sold to local people made him realize that he could sell the product further afield.
The entrepreneurial Tom Forsyth set about raising the initial capital of £3,500, and the Certificate of Incorporation of Jus Rol as a limited company was signed on November 26th 1954. A building adjacent to Market Palce in Coldstream was converted into a factory for making pastry. The initial sales were made by van to local grocers, later venturing further afield to Edinburgh.
Tom Forsyth had developed a product that was clearly a winner. In the 1950s freezers were beyond the means of the average UK home, but in 1957 a national distribution network for the frozen product was established when Lovell and Christmas were appointed as primary wholesalers in England, with depots in Stockport, Smithfield and Bristol.
The ladies working in the Coldstream bakery were encouraged to take home the cuttings from the uncooked pastry products. When asked what they did with the cuttings, they replied, “we just roll it out,” and that was how the Jus Rol trade name was born. In registering the company ‘Just Roll’, it was considered too descriptive a name, and so it was shortened to Jus Rol.
There was despondency in Coldstream when Jus Rol announced their intention to move to Berwick-upon-Tweed. Tom Forsyth, at the time a local town councilor, had wanted to build a new factory in Coldstream, but planning permission to build an industrial unit was refused. Woodlands Park now stands where the proposed factory was to be built. So it was proposed that Jus Rol relocate to Berwick. The move to Berwick was to prove the catalyst that would see Jus Rol expand to become an international success story in bakery and savory products.
It was in 1959 when Tom Forsyth acquired a site for Jus Rol on the Tweedside Industrial Estate in Tweedmouth, after the unsuccessful planning application in Coldstream.
By 1962 the whole business had moved from Coldstream to the Tweedmouth site. Alongside pastry production new products were added, giving the brand name Jus Rol international market success. The first addition to the range was Yorkshire puddings, which won them royal approval. Other new products to follow in succession were potato croquettes, apple strudels, vol-au-vents and sausage rolls. At its height Jus Rol in Tweedmouth employed around 450 people at peak production. This generated around several million pounds going into the local economy each year.
Tom Forsyth died in 1971; he was succeeded by John Forsyth, a former Sheriff of Berwick-upon-Tweed, who remained with the company until 1986.
In 1976 there was increasing demand for Jus Rol products, with exports going to Europe, Canada and the Middle East, and a new factory was built in Amble, Northumberland. The new expansion coincided with Jus Rol becoming involved with company mergers, firstly in 1975 under Fitch Lovell, then in 1990 with Grand Metropolitan. Subsequently, Jus Rol became part of Pillsbury Europe. In 2001 the Pillsbury businesses merged with the Minneapolis based General Mills, USA, to form one of the top ten food companies in the world.
Jus Rol was then known as General Mills (Berwick) Ltd, and it formed part of a larger group of other European companies with equally well-known brand names such as Häagen-Dazs, Old El Paso and Green Giant. The Berwick factory ceased production in late 2016, and its remaining staff were made redundant.
The Jus Rol factory in Amble, which had been sold by its parent company in 1996, was taken over by Cheviot Foods in 2002, and at its height was employing around 300 people. Cheviot Foods went into administration in 2009, in the same year that it was taken over by Northumberland Foods. Fate was to strike a second time with Northumberland Foods going into administration. Afterwards a deal that would have seen Longbenton Foods running the site failed to materialise. The Amble factory no longer exists having been demolished.
Berwick Advertiser, 23rd June 2004
Newcastle Journal, 20th February 2013