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£1bn battle for Birds Eye

PUBLISHED: 10:50 13 June 2006 | UPDATED: 11:00 22 October 2010

The owner of seafood business Young's Bluecrest has become the front-runner to win the £1bn battle for frozen food business Birds Eye and end the uncertainty facing 900 Lowestoft workers.

The owner of seafood business Young's Bluecrest has become the front-runner to win the £1bn battle for frozen food business Birds Eye and end the uncertainty facing 900 Lowestoft workers.

Venture capital firm CapVest is thought to want to combine Young's Bluecrest with Birds Eye to create a major new force in frozen foods. It is believed to have teamed up with fellow venture capital firm Blackstone to present a combined bid for Birds

Eye.

Birds Eye's Lowestoft factory is one of the region's largest food processing centres, employing nearly 900 workers, supporting hundreds more jobs in the local economy.

Owner Unilever put the for sale sign over the factory in February after admitting it had failed to turn around the business, even though the site at North Denes was last year voted the UK's top manufacturing site.

Unions and local politicians in Waveney have expressed concerns about the proposed sale of the site and the “unsettling and uncertain wait” they faced while a buyer was found.

Last week, Unilever's bankers Goldman Sachs sent out a sales memorandum of the businesses to prospective buyers, and the company hopes to complete the sale in the next few months.

CapVest and Blackstone appear to have emerged the front-runners, with rival venture capital business Lion Capital also believed to be interested.

Blackstone already has extensive interests in East Anglia after acquiring Center Parcs earlier this year for £205.4m. Center Parcs operates a holiday village at Elveden Forest in Thetford Forest as well as sites in Nottinghamshire, Wiltshire and Cumbria.

Last year Blackstone bought Merlin Entertainment, which operates the Sea Life Centre at Yarmouth and Hunstanton's Sea Life Sanctuary, for £102.5m.

The CapVest and Blackstone bid faces competition from London-based venture capital business Lion Capital, which owns a number of food and drink related businesses.

These include the Orangina drinks business it bought with Blackstone from Cadbury Schweppes last year and breakfast cereal firm Weetabix.

Bob Blizzard, Waveney MP, said last night: “It is heartening that we have serious interest in the factory from major companies. That at least will help allay fears that have been raised that there might not be any interest and the factory would be closing. It is a very efficient frozen food plant, one of the most efficient in the country, and has won a number of awards.”

Meanwhile, up to seven bidders are thought to have put in offers for the UK and Irish grocery businesses of Campbell's.

The US owned company, which owns a major factory at King's Lynn, said the businesses had been performing below expectations.

Lion Capital is one of the firms also interested in bidding for the Campbell's businesses which include Homepride sauces and Batchelors Cup-a-Soup and are expected to sell for around £500m.

There has also been interest from food groups including RHM, whose brands include Bisto and Hovis, and Premier Foods, owner of Branston and Sarsons.

Premier already operates factories in the region at Wisbech, Long Sutton and Bury St Edmunds.


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