Garry Muter: Helped to transform the food industry and chaired Norfolk hospital trust

A leading food industry executive, Garry Muter, who has died after a long illness aged 88, was part of the post-war revolution to improve quality and choice for consumers.

After a 40-year career in the food industry, as chairman of one of East Anglia's first hospital trusts, he was instrumental in achieving self-governing status for the James Paget Hospital Trust, Gorleston, in 1993.

He had come to Norfolk by chance to work on a farm camp on the Westwick estate, near North Walsham. The manager, Alex, later Sir Alex Alexander was evolving a novel concept to boost food production – 'a factory on the farm.' It aimed to identify faster-growing vegetable varieties, mainly peas, beans and sprouts. He harnessed new technologies including freezing and mechanical harvesting to boost yields and quality to produce cheaper food in the days when meat was still rationed.

Born in Glasgow, William Gardner Muter, who was always known as Garry, started his career as a trainee hospital administrator. He spent 10 months raising funds for hospitals in the days before the National Health Service. He joined the Royal Navy and ended his four years' service in the second world war as a young officer on Lord Mountbatten's staff, witnessing the Japanese surrender in Singapore.

After graduating from Manchester with a BA in commerce in 1947, he returned to Norfolk having been told by Sir Alex to bring his fianc�e to dinner.


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He joined the business and when the Ross Group acquired the Westwick companies in 1954, he became general manager and later managing director. After a lengthy visit to the United States in the early 1960s, he became involved in the wider food industry, including attempts to re-structure the UK Food Manufacturers' Federation.

As quick-freezing techniques were used for meat, dairy and poultry and even confectionery, he then had an influential role in developing easy to prepare recipes and foods.

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He became chairman of Dublin-based Portion Foods, which forged a three-way combination of Irish expertise in stock breeding, American companies with production 'know-how' and Ross Foods expanding sales and distribution food depots. In 1969, when Imperial acquired the Ross Group, he led the structural foundations of the vastly-enlarged food division, which employed tens of thousands across the country.

At a time when Europe's prepared-food sector was less developed before accession to the EEC, he spent two years examining opportunities to expand into France, Germany, Holland and Belgium. He was also involved in Brussels in discussions about future legislation and directives.

In 1974, he joined Imperial Tobacco's board and also became chairman of Lowfield Distribution, which was set up to distribute products including Golden Wonder crisps and HP sauce.

He held several outside directorships and was a director of Anglian Water, before it was privatised. His skill in public and press relations led to a similar post with Roger Haywood Associates, and as a director of third generation Norfolk flour milling group, RJ Read.

Although he retired from Imperial Foods in 1982 aged 58, he remained an executive non-executive director and was for many years as a member of the Princes' Youth Business Trust and a mentor to young people.

He shared his wife's love of gardening and her efforts over many years to restore the spectacular gardens at Lake House, Brundall, which has just gone on the market.

Married for 63 years, he leaves a widow, Janet, four children, five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

A thanksgiving service will be held at St Laurence Church, Brundall, on Friday, November 2 at 11.30am.

Michael Pollitt

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