M&A expert: Findus group split makes sense

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Food

The private equity owners of the Findus group are reportedly set to sell some of the frozen food group’s assets, a move that does not surprise industry analysts who cite its heavy debt burden and ill-fitting business units.

Recent media speculation claims investors Lion Capital have appointed financial advisers Rothschild in a bid to divest the UK businesses of the Findus group, namely Young’s Seafood and The Seafood Company.

A sale of the frozen meals group’s Nordic operations, the market leader in Norway, Finland and Sweden, is also said to be pending.

Lion acquired Findus, which operates across many categories including ready meals, seafood, vegetables and potatoes, three years ago for £1.1bn (€1.27bn). But the group has been debt laden and suffered a 4% dip in income in 2010.

Julian Wild, who heads up the food group at UK legal firm Rollits, said it is difficult to question the logic of splitting up the Findus group.

The frozen food giant is currently a “collection of business - from frozen to chilled to private and branded - that just don’t sit well together,” ​the M &A expert told FoodNavigator.com.

The plan had been, continued Wild, to build a European branded frozen seafood business that could compete with rival Bird’s Eye but that has “not quite worked out”.

“Centralising the business in London and getting in some expensive and experienced heavy-hitters has not be a successful strategy - in part because Lion Capital lost out to Bird’s Eye on the bidding for the Findus Italy division but also in part as a result of the move to consolidate operations whereby you lose that critical national identity that can drive individual operations,” ​added the legal specialist.

And Wild said he expects plenty of bidding interest in Young’s if the split comes off. “Young’s is a good business, whereas it is no secret that the performance of The Seafood Company has been a bit patchy, and the recent rethink on the closure of the Cromer Crab Company is indicative of that.”

In statements emailed to FoodNavigator.com, Leendert den Hollander, chief executive of Young’s Seafood, said: "It's business as usual at Young's Seafood Limited. We're continuing to focus on driving growth in fish and seafood and on inspiring people to eat fish at least twice a week. We are working hard to achieve these goals and to ensure our business continues to have a successful future. All the rest is speculation."

And a spokesperson for Lion Capital told this publication that the private equity group is fully supportive of the strategy being pursued by Young’s.

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