Raising Finance

The food business Jamie Oliver hates has just been sold

3 min read

21 September 2016

Turkey goods business Bernard Matthews has been sold by existing private equity backer Rutland Partners through a deal which sees 2 Sisters Food Group become its new owner.

The company, which was famously attacked by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver because of its Turkey Twizzler line, has experienced a dip in sales and PwC were appointed over the summer to find a buyer.

Although the transaction is expected to safeguard 2,000 staff members employed in Norfolk and Suffolk, trade union Unite has given it a “cautious welcome”.

Unite regional officer Steve Harley said: “In takeover situations, there are always matters that need to be clarified. Unite is meeting the company [when] searching questions will be asked on future employment, pay, and terms and conditions.

“We will also be asking about the status of the pension scheme under the new owners, although it is expected that our members won’t be affected in this respect by [the] takeover.”

Bernard Matthews’ history dates back to 1950 when its founder bought 20 eggs and sold the 12 turkeys produced to a local farmer. Having grown in prominence over the next 50 years, it was hit by accusations by chef Oliver that its processed meat products were unhealthy for school children, and then the avian flu outbreak in 2007.

When its founder died in 2010, it was reported that the business was close to going under – before private equity firm Rutland Partners injected £25m into the business. After a three-year investment period, a new buyer has been found. Ranjit Boparan, who heads up 2 Sisters Food Group, also owns Fox’s Biscuits and Goodfella’s.

A spokesman for his private office said the purchase would provide a “strong platform for future growth” at Bernard Matthews.

Unite’s concerns about the company’s pension scheme were echoed by Labour MP Frank Field, who is calling on the Pensions Regulator to investigate the deal. Having also demanded that Philip Green plug the reported hole he has left in the pension scheme of BHS, Field is worried that the pre-pack administration deal will mean that the new buyer only acquires assets, and not liabilities.

According to Sky News, the Bernard Matthews benefit scheme has a deficit of around £16m. Talking to Sky, Field said: “The new employer must not be allowed to get away with dumping the Bernard Matthews pension scheme into which workers have paid.”

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