United Biscuits silent on split rumours

By Dan Colombini

- Last updated on GMT

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UB are staying silent on rumours of a split and possible sale of the firm
UB are staying silent on rumours of a split and possible sale of the firm
Snacks giant United Biscuits has refused to comment on continuing rumours of a split at the firm which could lead to a possible sale of its snack and biscuit divisions.

The firm has been the subject of rumours which could see private equity owners PAI Partners and Blackstone, breaking the firm up and selling off divisions to generate £2 bn, according to press reports.

A spokeswoman for UB said they would not comment on “market speculation​” but analysts are predicting that the split is likely.

Julian Wild, food group director at law firm Rollits, told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “It is highly likely that the snacks and biscuit businesses will be split. But it is not likely they will remain in the same hands.

“It is a difficult pairing as they are very different businesses and markets. I can’t conceive there being an offer from the UK due to competition issues.​”

Multi-national player

Wild said a likely suitor for the businesses will be from a “large multi-national player”,​ perhaps from the Far East.

But it really depends on what is on offer​,” he added. “There could be competition issues arising from the UK, so unless it comes from a completely new player to the market, is likely to come from overseas.​”

The split could see UB’s savoury brands, including KP peanuts, split from its biscuit division which is home to household brands such as Digestive and Jaffa Cakes.

Talk of a potential split emerged in July last year following a decision by UB’s owners to appoint Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan, to oversee a review of the business ahead of a potential sale.

China’s Bright Food had been in exclusive talks for a £2.5bn deal in November last year, which would have included debts, but the discussions failed.

Speculation

Speculation was also rife that Campbell Soup Company and Kellogg’s both looked at the firm prior to the agreement with Bright.

However, the rumours resurfaced in August this year following the collapsed bids, with analysts predicting that the split and subsequent sale could be back on.

Speaking at the time, Mintel global market analyst, Marcia Mogelonsky told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “Campbell's may still be a viable buyer but its showings have been weak and it may feel poorly equipped to make a big buy right now.​”

Mogelonsky also said that following its own split​ earlier that month, Kraft could still be a contender.

She added: “One thing to think about is the recent Kraft Foods split. The new global snacks company would be able to ease UB’s biscuits line into its business if it can avoid antitrust [issues]."

UB currently operates 11 factories in the UK and four factories in Continental Europe. It also has a group technical centre in High Wycombe and a HQ in Hayes, Middlesex.

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