TWO of Britain's leading frozen seafood companies are currently at the centre of intense buyout speculation which, if confirmed, could radically change the face of the industry.
Triton Partners, the† European private equity company that last year led an unsuccessful attempt to buy the Icelandic Group, is reported to have put in an offer for the Findus Group, which owns Young's Seafood. Triton is thought to have made an offer worth some £240-million for Findus, which has a large corporate debt. This offer would help to repay most of that debt.
And Blackstone and BC Partners are said to have submitted a joint bid worth US $3-billion for the Iglo Group, which includes the Birds Eye brand in the UK, which has been rejected as too low. Birds Eye is, of course, famous for its fish fingers and Captain Birds Eye character.† Both Blackstone and BC Partners, who would take a 50 per cent share in any acquisition, are now said to be planning a higher offer.
Permira are the current owners of Iglo which was bought from Unilever for £1.2 billion back in 2006. They put Iglo and Birds Eye up for sale two months ago and if this deal goes through it would unite the Birds Eye brand in the United States with that in Britain for the first time in more than 70 years. The brand is named after Clarence Birdseye, generally regarded as the father of frozen food. It is said he got the idea after he saw a Canadian Inuit (Eskimo) eating frozen fish after it had been frozen in the ice for several months. As always both sides are saying little about the speculation.
Findus, owned by the private equity firm Lion capital, is facing somewhat different problems. It has a large corporate debt said to be more than £600 million and there has been pressure from its lenders to pay down some of that money.
Findus has sales of more than £1.1 billion and employs 6,000 people, more than half of them in the UK through Young's and its sister own label business known as The Seafood Company. The main Young's and Seafood Company's production centres are in Grimsby and in at various locations in Scotland. But like all food producers, Findus has been affected by the rising cost of raw materials.
So far Findus has said little except to confirm that it is in talks with lenders to help restructure is corporate finance and pay down some of its debt. One other possibility widely mooted is for the current owners Lion to recoup some cash by selling Findus's Nordic operations and keep hold of Young's, which itself is undergoing major restructuring.
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