Shareholders give thumbs-up to Uniq pension fund deficit deal

By Ben Bouckley

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Pension

Uniq ceo Geoff Eaton: 'delighted' shareholders have accepted deal
Uniq ceo Geoff Eaton: 'delighted' shareholders have accepted deal
Uniq shareholders have approved a deal that will see over 90% of the food firm handed to its pension scheme to wipe out a gaping pension fund deficit.

It marks the latest hurdle cleared by Uniq in its bid for the ‘deficit for equity’ swap that means existing shareholders with the chilled convenience food group will retain only 9.8% of the company, which will begin trading on the AIM or Alternative Investment Market (as opposed to the main market) from April 1.

Uniq ceo Geoff Eaton (pictured) said he now looked forward to re-focusing management efforts of future profitable growth, where 97.11% of shareholders (1,646) voted in favour of the deal that will release the firm from its £400m pension debt (£473m as of July 31 2010).

Long-standing issue resolved

The agreement willl also secure Uniq a £25m credit facility that will allow it to inject £14m into the pension fund, and Eaton said: “We are delighted that shareholders have supported the proposed solution to our longstanding pensions issue.

“This is the result of 18 months of hard work, and will release the business from the huge legacy pension burden, while realising the best possible outcome for pension members and achieving some value for our shareholders.”

In mid-February Eaton said the deal was the “only viable way of enabling shareholders to achieve some value for their shareholdings in the company”​, adding that Uniq's bank had told​the board that if the deal did not proceed, it would not provide a new loan facility:

“While the company has adequate cash at the present time, this is unlikely to be sufficient to fund the group’s expected working capital requirements for the whole of the next twelve months,"​ he warned.

At the end of January, Investec Securities analyst Nicola Mallard told FoodManufacture.co.uk that a clear timetable for the pension deal was encouraging, where previously it had caused a lot of uncertainty for Uniq employees, suppliers and customers.

Uniq’s pension headache

In the 1980s, Uniq (formerly Unigate plc) sold its dairy business to Dairy Crest but retained responsibility for a defined benefit pension scheme with over 40,000 members.

Uniq expects that its shares will last trade on March 16, with a High Court hearing scheduled the day after to sanction the scheme; the capital reorganisation will be effective from March 18, with Uniq listed on the AIM because only 9.8% of shares will be in public hands, below the 25% threshold required for a listing.

The company has four factories in Minsterley (desserts), Spalding (salads), Evercreech (desserts) and Northampton (sandwiches and wraps).

Related topics: Chilled foods

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