Riley's Crisps founder, 94, returns to 'out of this world' Golden Wonder factory

By Scunthorpe Telegraph | Posted: 26 Oct 2016

EX-SCUNTHORPE steelworker Alfred William "Biff" Riley made a sentimental journey to look over the back-street business he turned into a multi-million pound industry for the town.

It was his first visit in more than 20 years to the Colin Road factory of Golden Wonder crisps and the co-founder had to admit he was amazed at the changes that had taken place.

His visit also co-incided with the 10th anniversary of the takeover of the business and the 350-strong workforce by the Northern Ireland-based Tayto Group.

Yaddlethorpe-based Biff, 94, who was joined by his daughter Sue Denton and niece Annette Paton, recalled in his day the weekly output of crisps was half a million bags.

Biff Riley pictured with Jimmy Cooper

Now, thanks to heavy automation the plant produces 23 million bags a week on a 24/7 basis either on a five-day or seven-day rota depending on demand.

Wheelchair-bound Biff, who sold the business in 1981 for a seven-figure sum, could not conceal his admiration when he enthused: "It's out of this world."

His guide for the afternoon was an ex-employee Jimmy Cooper, who at one time used to clean his car!

Jimmy, now the manufacturing manager, joined the company in 1979 as a factory cleaner.

He told his former mentor the Scunthorpe site currently used 1,200 tonnes a week of potatoes from seven different varieties.

The spuds in turn become nine different flavours of Golden Wonder crisps including pickled onion and sausage and tomato.

The company began from humble beginnings in a back street fish and chip shop on Scunthorpe's Allenby Street run by Bill Riley, the dad of steelworkers Biff and Dennis Riley. Dennis died in 2002.

94-year-old Biff Riley chats with Marie Dickinson during a tour of the factory

For three years in the early days the brothers produced their own crisps, using the fryers in their dad's shop, and sold their crisps locally.

As the company grew, the brothers gave up their full-time jobs to focus on their company. Back then sales of Rileys Crisps were still centred on North Lincolnshire, but were beginning to spread to adjacent towns.

By 1958, the brothers were producing a rapidly increasing volume of crisps and two years later they decided to move from Allenby Street to a factory site on Colin Road.

In 1972 a new employee arrived on the scene in the shape of Bob Curgenven, who effectively took over the reins and helped the business reach its potential to sell crisps world-wide.

In June 1981, Mr Curgenven, together with key senior managers, purchased the business from Biff and Dennis.

The sales of Rileys Crisps continued to grow and expand, selling as far away as Gibraltar.

Since then the crisp-making business in Colin Road has undergone six more changes of ownership, including Rowntrees and Sooner Foods.

The Tayto Group rescued the firm from administration in 2006 and the factory now produces Golden Wonder crisps.

Tatyo chiefs are planning a double celebration in 2017 to mark the 70th anniversary of the Scunthorpe business and the invention of Golden Wonder crisps by Edinburgh baker William Alexander.

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