Thai buyer has appetite for Birds Eye deal

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The Independent Online

Captain Birdseye could be about to embark on his longest voyage. The famous fish finger maker, part of food group Iglo, is in the sights of a Thai conglomerate that wants to buy the business and export its wares to Eastern Europe and Asia.

CP Foods, Thailand's top food producer, is one of a handful of bidders for Iglo, which has been put up for sale with a £2.5 billion price tag by its private equity owner Permira.

If CP wins the auction ahead of several private equity buyers, Birds Eye would become the latest British food brand to fall to a foreign owner. Breakfast cereal maker Weetabix was recently acquired by Bright Food of China, amid strong demand among Asia's growing middle classes for Western- style meals.

Iglo has performed well since it was bought out from grocery giant Unilever in 2006. Under boss Martin Glenn, the food ranges have been refreshed and a greater emphasis put on convenience through its Bake to Perfection range.

Advertising campaigns have plugged the fact that the firm's frozen veg contained 40 per cent more Vitamin C than the fresh equivalent and sustainable pollock was added to its fish fingers.

After losing ground in recent years to the ready meals market, frozen has staged a comeback as consumers have tightened their belts because very little food goes to waste. Last year Iglo sold 31,400 tons of peas in Britain and made a profit of £267m.

Glenn has hopes of finding a wealthy backer who can help to finance more consolidation in the frozen sector after he bulked up Iglo with the acquisition of Findus in Italy.

Other famous food groups that have gone into foreign hands in recent years include Cadbury, acquired by Kraft, Rowntree, now owned by Nestle, and dairy firm Robert Wiseman, which was swallowed by Muller of Germany.

CP already has operations in Britain and makes own-label food for supermarkets including Tesco.