Suttons Group looks set to flex its financial muscles under the leadership of new MD John Sutton and is looking at acquisition targets in the UK food supply chain market.

The operator revealed last month that MD Andrew Palmer would retire at the end of its financial year in April, with international division director John Sutton taking the reigns in May.

Speaking exclusively to MT, the pair said that Suttons, which now derives the majority of its revenue from business in China, the Middle East and the US, had not forgotten its UK tanker business and has ambitious plans for expansion.

Palmer said: “We have never acquired anything when I have been here. “We have doubled in size during that period and it has all been organic growth.”

In the year ending 30 April 2012, its UK business saw turnover jump from £75.4m to £82.9m.

The outgoing chief executive said its ambitions over the next three to five years were to double the business again.

“There will be a combination of doing more of what we do and do well, but I would not be surprised if we made an acquisition,” he said.

“This month we will complete a small acquisition of a Chinese transport company, and we are looking at a couple of other things but we are not forgetting about the UK. We have ambitions to expand in the UK. Not so much in chemicals, because that market is trending down, but possibly in food. We are still investing in the UK.”

He added: “We could bring a lot to that sector. To expand in that sector in the UK we may end up finding we want to purchase something.”

Incoming MD Sutton explained that the decision was about diversifying the customer mix. “We have been predominantly operating in the chemical market, which is, at best, flat and, at worse, declining.”

He also admitted that his first job would be to focus on the UK set-up. “I need to spend a lot more time in the road tanker division and with our customers, so I understand their needs and requirements. And so we can continue that growth.”