MP reassured over Birds Eye’s future

Waveney MP Peter Aldous was yesterday reassured that investment would continue in the Lowestoft Birds Eye site regardless of who the owner was as speculation mounted that the frozen-food brand is for sale.

Iglo Group declined to comment to the EDP on a report in the Sunday Telegraph which said it had been put up for sale with a price tag of up to �2.5bn.

Iglo makes pea, poultry and potato waffle products at Lowestoft and has operations at Bremerhaven and Reken in Germany and Cisterna in Italy.

But Mr Aldous said, after contacting the firm, that while the Telegraph report was speculative, Iglo was not denying that it was a matter of when and not if it would be sold.

The auction of Iglo Group, which is Europe's largest frozen-food company, follows a number of approaches to its private equity owner Permira.

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It bought Iglo for 1.7bn euro (�1.4bn) in 2006 from Unilever and expanded the business by buying Findus Italy for 800m euro (�669m) in 2010.

Mr Aldous said: 'I think obviously in Lowestoft, where there have been a number of closures over the years, there is reasonable apprehension.

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'What has happened here in the last five years is that the current owners have invested a lot in the business in putting in new production lines.

'They have made significant investment both in capital and in staff. They will be carrying on with that regardless of who owns it.'

He added: 'When there is an announcement it will be made to the most important people, the staff.'

The Sunday Telegraph said that buy-out rivals such as Blackstone, BC Partners and Cinven are likely to participate in the auction. Iglo is run by Martin Glenn, who is credited with revitalising the Walkers Crisps brand in his time at PepsiCo.

Iglo sales in 2011 are thought to have beaten the 1.1bn euro (�920m) recorded the previous year, helped by the targeting of new markets such as Russia and Turkey.

In 2010 Birds Eye shocked growers in Norfolk and Suffolk by announcing that it would not be renewing contracts for the supply of peas to its Lowestoft processing plant, following the loss of a major export order.

The decision brought to an end a tradition of pea growing in the region stretching back 64 years.

The Anglia Pea Growers co-operative has agreed a new deal with Kent-based frozen fruit and vegetable processor Ardo UK to take a 14,800-tonne crop this year.

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