Final thoughts: Uniq CEO Geoff Eaton bids farewell

By Anne Bruce

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Uniq, Pension, Tax, Pension fund

Geoff Eaton: Looking for a new challenge
Geoff Eaton: Looking for a new challenge
CEO Geoff Eaton told FoodManufacture.co.uk that he was “feeling very satisfied” as he prepares to leave Uniq at the end of the month.

Uniq is now awaiting final clearance from the Office of Fair Trading on its £113M sale to Greencore; a decision that is expected to be a formality.

Shareholders have already voted overwhelmingly in favour of the deal, which was struck following problems with Uniq’s pension fund.

Greencore announced on August 30 that it had received acceptances in respect of 115,001,506 Uniq shares - 98.13% of the company’s issued share capital.

The transfer to Greencore is now expected to complete by the end of the month.

Good deal

Speaking to FoodManufacture.co.uk, Eaton said the sale was a “very good deal all round”, with the price reflecting the quality of the Uniq business.

With the recent announcement that the Minsterley desserts site was being scaled back to focus on its most lucrative lines, Greencore was inheriting a profitable desserts business as well as a food-to-go supply operation to Marks & Spencer (M&S), he said.

Minsterley is finally a profitable and growing business. Greencore’s relationship with Marks & Spencer will also benefit as Uniq is a very important supplier to M&S​,” said Eaton.

Greencore had already announced that it expected to find £10M synergy and purchasing benefits due to the deal.

Uniq’s executive directors are set to leave but Uniq’s individual businesses' management teams would be staying on under the new owners, he added.

New challenges

Eaton said he would be looking for a new challenge, probably leading a listed company, whether it was in the food sector or in a different industry. He would also be looking at opportunities in private equity.

It is the nature of the challenge that matters to me, whatever the sector​,” he said. “I like to change things. We will see where things go.”

Eaton said that he had inherited a group with “a lot of challenges” when he joined Uniq six years ago.

He was quick to change the culture and sell off underperforming businesses to deal with its debts, creating a lot of value in the company, he said.

But the credit crunch had created a “perfect storm”, as the pension fund deficit escalated to an unforeseeable level, in combination with a slowdown in consumer demand.

Despite quickly selling off the continental business the situation could not be remedied to the satisfaction of the pension fund trustees.

Creative solution

Eaton said he was pleased that the management team had come up with a “very creative solution” to the company’s pension problems, which might stand as a template for other companies facing similar problems in future.

In March, the High Court sanctioned a scheme whereby Uniq handed over 90% of its shares to its pension scheme; in return its £430M pension scheme deficit was to be wiped out.

Since main market rules demand that 25% of a firm’s shares are quoted, Uniq had to relist itself on the AIM Alternative Investment Market) from April 1.

The announcement by Greencore on July 12 that it had made a £113m offer for Uniq came four months after Greencore announced that it was abandoning its proposed merger with Northern Foods, following Ranjit Boparan’s £342M offer for the company.

Related topics: Chilled foods

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