Subsidiary Companies




In 1969, the Lyons Maid ice-cream business of J. Lyons & Co. bought Tonibell thus increasing their ice cream volumes of the UK market. The purchase price was £1,750,000 and the deal was between Glacier Foods Ltd, the company which controlled Lyons Maid and its associated ice-cream activities, and British American Tobacco Co. Ltd, which had bought Tonibell Manufacturing Co. Ltd in 1964.

Tonibell was started in 1937 by Italian-born Toni Pignatelli and his Scottish wife. Known as Tonis, it consisted of a small ice-cream manufacturing plant in a shop in High Street, Burnt Oak, Middlesex. The products were sold to the public from the shop window. Twelve years later the couple's son Ronald, who had changed his name to Peters, joined the business. He increased sales and production and acquired a second shop nearby. The first mobile vehicle - a tricycle fitted with a holdover box to carry ice-cream - was bought in 1951. A year later a small van was converted into a mobile ice-cream vehicle complete with musical chimes. By 1956 six of these vans were in use. Trade continued to expand and the business moved to new premises in Barnet, just north of London.

The name Tonis was changed to Tonibell in 1960 because competitors began using Tonis name and colours. All vehicles were painted blue, and Tonibell's cow symbol made its debut with a new jingle that was specially written for the chimes. The following year soft ice-cream was introduced and Tonibell converted all existing vehicles to enable them to carry the soft type ice-cream in addition to their normal lines.

In 1964 British American Tobacco bought Tonibell, and the company started to market a larger and more varied range than before. A year later Ron Peters left the company. In 1966 an extensive building and re-equipping programme began at Boreham Wood. In 1967 the production of yoghurt was started and this became an increasingly important side of the business. In 1969, when Lyons bought the company, Tonibell had eighteen depots and four franchise depots covering the whole country. The business was, essentially a franchise operation and 500 vans were involved in taking ice-cream to housing estates and other high density areas. In addition they had 15 ice-cream parlours, mainly in the London area, and again operated under franchise arrangements.

Lyons Maid developed the business further and were able to use their technology of soft ice-cream which, in its early days, did not have a very good reputation. Before they acquired Tonibell they were in partnership with a Swiss company helping to develop a process called uperisation. An American company was involved with the ice-cream container/dispenser and these were eventually used in vans and other franchise outlets under hygienic conditions.


© Peter Bird 2002