Informed sources say potential buyers for R&R Ice Cream put their first-round bids on the table this week – with the firm founded by US Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney rumoured to be in the running.
Bain capital – the buyout business set up by Romney in 1984 – is thought to be one of several private equity firms keen on taking a majority stake in Europe’s largest own-label ice cream manufacturer.
It is believed that US investment fund Oaktree Capital has put its 82% stake up for sale. The remaining 18% is owned by the management team led by executive chairman James Lambert.
Lambert was reported to have told the Yorkshire Post this week that R&R’s potential was probably “bigger than the balance sheet could stand”.
He also said that if a sale didn’t take place, he hadn’t ruled out a return to the stock exchange by floating the business in the next couple of years.
Suggestions that Oaktree was looking to sell its stake first surfaced in March, with reports suggesting it could fetch up to $1bn.
Nestlé and Kraft.
The ice cream firm was formed in 2006 when Oaktree combined UK manufacturer Richmond Foods and German business Roncadin. It supplies own-label products and has licensing deals with Nestlé and Kraft.
R&R has been on the acquisition trail over the past two years, snapping up Italian ice cream maker Eskigel for £60.5M in August.
In 2011 it acquired German firm Durigo Gelato for an undisclosed sum and, earlier the same year, took ownership of Pilpa, the ice cream division of French firm Maison Boncolac.
Lambert said at the time that the acquisitions would consolidate its position as the second largest player in the European ice cream market and help it compete with Unilever.
R&R’s turnover for the year ending December 2011 was more than £406M (€500M), up from £365M (€450M) the previous year.
Sales are expected to rise again in 2013 as it launches Kraft brand ice creams in 10 European countries.
‘Right capital structure’
Lambert added it was essential the business had the “the right capital structure to take advantage of all the opportunities that are available from Turkey to Portugal”.
“That will give us the platform for increasing the level of growth of the business over the next three to five years.
“It’s making sure we have the right structure underpinning the growth of the business,” Lambert told the Yorkshire Post.
R&R has a total workforce of about 3,500.
In addition to Bain Capital, it is also believed Apax Partners, Clayton and Dubilier & Rice are thought to be interested parties.
Apax is based in London and has raised total funds of £22.4bn.
At 34 years old, Clayton, Dubilier & Rice is one of the buyout industry’s oldest players. It is based in New York.