Wilsons Feeds Ltd company was founded at the beginning of the 20th century by W J Wilson of Ballycarry, County Antrim. The original business provided farmers visiting Belfast with feed and housing for their horses and the opportunity to purchase oats, hay, maize meal and flour. The company grew steadily throughout the early part of the century and was taken over by W J Wilson's nephew, Robert Wilson, between the two world wars. He introduced many innovations and developed the business throughout the 1930s and 1940s.
In 1964, an international management consulting company was engaged to advise on overall strategy and tactics. They concluded that modern systems of management should be installed and the direct market to farmers was the most dynamic route to expansion. To implement this decision, it was decided to recruit a management trainee who, on completing his/her training, would spearhead the policy for the future. It was felt that new thinking and energy were required as Ted Wilson had various other commercial interests which took up most of his time. During the next 12 years there was a stable period of growth aided by various purchases of smaller companies: the biggest and most influential of these purchasers was Wm Marshall& Co in 1974. This had the immediate result that manufacturing techniques had to be developed for the production of extruded dairy and beef products. A manufacturing arrangement was agreed with E T Green Ltd, part of the Rank Group. The Marshall takeover also meant that a number of excellent sales people joined Wilsons with the result that overall growth increased.
It was obvious that future development had to be supported by either major improvements at the present site or a new manufacturing facility. After careful consideration, it was decided to sell the premises at Great Patrick Street, Belfast, and build a new feed mill and office block in the Belfast Harbour Estate. Construction commenced in late 1978, was completed in 1979, and the new plant opened at the beginning of 1980. Robert Smith (Strabane) Ltd, a substantial country compounder, was taken over in August 1981 and thereafter sales expanded exponentially. Wilsons Feeds (Ireland) Ltd in Mullingar, County Westmeath was founded in 1966 and by now the group was the second largest compounder in Northern Ireland. Soon the Northern Road plant was at maximum output and a second mill was built at Dungannon, County Tyrone: Wilsons Feeds (Dungannon) Ltd. The group continued to grow both tonnage and profits.
During 1996, consideration was given to the future and the consolidation of Andrew's feed output with Wilsons. It was decided to close one production plant with a number of redundancies and an overall decrease in unit costs. However, against the advice of the Wilson directors, the Northern Road plant was closed and production transferred to Andrew's Percy Street Mill. A new company, A W Feeds Ltd was then formed to acquire the assets both of Wilsons Feeds and Andrews Milling and the Wilson name ceased to exist and the companies were wound up. The three original directors who had been instrumental in the original MBO sold their shares to Andrews Holdings Ltd, and, disagreeing with the new format, resigned. There is an interesting and ironic sequel: in 2000, A H Feeds Ltd was sold to a new company, United Feeds Ltd. which is jointly owned by United Dairies Ltd and Andrews Holdings Ltd: part of this deal meant the closure of the Percy Street Mill and the re-opening of the Northern Road facility.