Tributes to man who created Scunthorpe crisp industry

By Scunthorpe Telegraph | Posted: 21 Apr 2017

THE man who created a Scunthorpe industry which has lasted seven decades has died at his home in the town's general hospital at the age of 94.

At its height, the crisp-making empire father-of-two Alfred William "Biff" Riley and his late brother Dennis started, employed more than 1,600 people.

Riley's Crisps emerged from humble beginnings in 1947 at the family fish and chip shop on West Street.

William Riley told his two steelworker sons they could make money "hand over fist" – and how right he was!

In 1950 Biff began working full-time at the crisp factory, then based in Allanby Street, and three years later his brother took over sales and distribution.

By the late 1950s the factory employed 24 staff and was using around 20 tonnes of potatoes a week.

In 1960 Riley's relocated to the present site on Colin Road and began supplying supermarket chains, but production methods remained primitive.

By 1980 the firm had cornered 12 per cent of the UK crisp market and employed 1,100 people.

The then managing director, Bob Curgenven, had reshaped Riley's into two businesses called RPC Limited and Snooker Foods.

In 1981 Biff and his brother sold the business for an undisclosed seven-figure sum to to a management buy-out led by Mr Curgenven. A year later Sooner Foods was sold to Rowntree Macklintosh and in 1988 the American-owned Borden International took over.

There was a further change of ownership in 1992 when the business was acquired by Golden Wonder. But in 2006 a rescue operation had to be mounted by the Northern Ireland family-owned Tayto firm when Golden Wonder went into administration.

Last October Biff – confined to a wheelchair – was invited with his family to the Colin Road factory.It was his first return in more than 20 years and he was amazed at the transformation following a £6 million investment by Tayto on new technology.

Biff recalled that in his day the weekly capacity was half a million bags of crisps. He enthused "It's out of this world" when told the new streamline factory was capable of producing 23 million bags weekly.

A funeral service will be held on Tuesday (April 25) at the town's Woodlands Crematorium at 2.40pm. Family flowers only have been requested, but donations can be made to the Stroke Association.

Paying tribute, his daughter Sue Denton said: "Dad was proof that hard work can get results. Crisp-making was a big part of his life and he was very happy to be able to do the factory tour last October."

A spokesman for Tayto said: "We were deeply saddened to hear of the death of Biff Riley and we should like to pass on our sincere condolences to his family.

"Mr Riley visited the factory quite recently and appeared to enjoy his visit enormously.

"Golden Wonder's current manufacturing manager Jimmy Cooper was once employed by Biff.

Mr Cooper said: "I have fond memories of Biff Riley and still remember 38 years ago his passion and enthusiasm to manufacture crisps and deliver a quality product supporting this in a 'hands on way'.

"He created an enjoyable work environment for everyone and his integrity helped develop a culture and environment that contributed to the business it is today and with it an opportunity for many people to play a part in its success and develop their careers.

"The visit last October with Biff and his family was a privilege for both me and Tayto and his passion and memory on the day was still inspirational."

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