Tycoon mulls move to gatecrash foods merger

Goodfella’s pizza and Fox’s biscuit firm Northern Foods today confirmed West Midlands tycoon Ranjit Boparan had requested access to its books amid speculation he is planning a £300m (€353m) bid.

Goodfella’s pizza and Fox’s biscuit firm Northern Foods today confirmed West Midlands tycoon Ranjit Boparan had requested access to its books amid speculation he is planning a £300m (€353m) bid.

Mr Boparan – one of Tesco’s biggest chicken suppliers and owner of the Harry Ramsden’s and FishWorks chains – is now going through Northern’s financials after asking for access in a letter last Friday.

But Northern said he had not yet revealed his intentions or indicated any potential offer price.

It is thought Mr Boparan is considering gatecrashing Northern’s agreed all-share merger with Irish chilled foods firm Greencore, which is the UK’s biggest sandwich maker.

The deal is due to create a new firm called Essenta with combined annual sales of £1.7bn (€1.99bn).

Mr Boparan has been building up his stake in Northern since the Greencore merger was announced in mid-November, from less than 3% to a 6.6% shareholding.

The entrepreneur now has access to the same financial information offered to Greencore, as is allowed under City takeover rules.

Mr Boparan made his name through chicken processor Two Sisters Food Group, but has expanded his empire through acquisition in recent years, snapping up fish and chip group Harry Ramsden’s in January after buying the FishWorks restaurant firm out of administration a year earlier.

However, his takeover ambitions for Northern face potential sticking points, predominantly with Northern’s £142m (€167m) pension deficit.

It is thought a takeover by Mr Boparan would force Northern to go back to pension trustees to renegotiate annual funding payments, which could also be far higher than those agreed under the Greencore proposal.

He would also have to better the £40m (€47m) of cost synergies announced as part of the Greencore deal.

Northern and Greencore today maintained confidence in their proposed merger despite the interest from Mr Boparan.

Shareholders of both firms are due to vote on the deal on January 31.

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