Kerry buys out the Curry King

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The Independent Online

The Irish foods company has bought Sir Gulam's Noon Foods, which is part of the WT Foods group majority owned by Bridgepoint Capital. Sir Gulam had about a 4 per cent stake in WT Foods, but has sold all of his interest in Noon Foods to Kerry.

He founded Noon in 1989, and turned it in to a multi-million pound enterprise that supplies Asian ready meals to all the major supermarket groups. In the year to the end of March it had sales of £105m.

Despite cashing in his financial stake in Noon, Sir Gulam is staying on to continue running the business under Kerry's control. He will remain as chairman along with most of the existing management team. He said: "When I first started producing authentic Indian cuisine nearly 20 years ago I did not realise how big a market it would turn out to be. Now that ethnic cuisine is welcomed as part of our daily life, I want to work with the Kerry Group to continue giving British consumers a culinary experience in their homes."

He made about £50m from the sale of Noon Foods to WT Foods in 1999, and took a seat on WT's board. In 2001, he staged a management buyout and took WT private with the backing of Bridgepoint in a £102m deal.

A spokesman for Bridgepoint yesterday said it had made a "significant" return on its investment. It still owns the remainder of the WT group, which contains the Enco Afro-Caribbean brands; Chadha, a supplier of Oriental products to the grocery trade; and Funnybones, an American, Mexican and Cajun foods business. Sir Gulam remains as a small shareholder in WT Foods.

Kerry Group succeeded in an auction for Noon Foods run by Bridgepoint, which has been keen to expand its premium ready meals business. Hugh Friel, the chief executive of Kerry Group, said: "The chilled ready meals market is valued at £1.4bn and continues to exhibit annual growth rates of 5 to 7 per cent per annum. In particular, the premium category of this sector is achieving high double digit growth rates in response to strongly favourable consumer trends towards increased convenience."

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