The Vestey brothers were initially sent to South America in an attempt to make their fortune because the economy there was booming. They started by buying game birds and storing them in the cold stores of American companies before shipping them to Liverpool.
In 1915 the brothers, after being refused a request for income tax exemption made to David Lloyd George, moved to Buenos Aires to avoid paying income tax in the UK. The family later administered the business through a Paris trust that enabled it to legally avoid UK tax until the loophole was closed in 1991 .
It is said that by 1930 Vesteys had 30,000 employees world wide and a net value of 300,000 pounds.
The line owned a number of refrigerated ships (Reefers), and business later expanded to countries as far apart as Egypt and China, carrying passengers in addition to various foodstuffs. Blue Star was finally sold to P&O Nedlloyd for 60,000,000 GBP in 1998, although most of the refrigerated ships were retained by Vestey's Albion Reefers subsidiary, which later merged with Hamburg Sud to form Star Reefers, finally sold off in July 2001.
In the middle of the 20th century, Vestey companies dominated the UK wholesale and retail meat trade, selling refrigerated and canned meats, as well as leather and other by-products. Having saved cash reserves for the purpose, they entered into a price war with the US owned importers to largely drive them from the UK market. Vestey developed the country-wide Dewhurst chain of butchers shops, which was eventually disbanded in 1995 in the face of increasing competition from the supermarket chains. Dewhurst were the first to introduce the innovation of glass windows on butcher's shops - previously meat had been exposed to the elements and pollution.
Similar events took place in Venezuela, when in 2005, Venezuelan troops occupied a cattle ranch owned by the Vestey Group, under a 2001 land use reform programme instituted by the Hugo Chávez government. In March 2006, the Group reached an agreement with the Venezuelan government, ceding two ranches to the state while retaining ownership of eight .
Lord (Sam) Vestey, born 19 March 1941 is the great grandson of 1st Lord Vestey, and the current head of the family and Chairman of the Group. He owns the 6,000 acre (24 km²) Stowell Park Estate at Stowell Park, Gloucestershire, valued at £15,000,000 as well as a villa in Nice and a Townhouse in Belgravia.
The Vesteys endowed the Vestey Professorship of Food Safety and Veterinary Public Health at the Royal Veterinary College, University of London.