Albert Fisher sells spices arm of Hunter Saphir for 25m pounds

ALBERT FISHER, the food group, is to reduce its pounds 50m of debt after selling for pounds 25m the spices arm of Hunter Saphir, the fresh food and vegetables importer it bought in January for a consideration of pounds 39m, writes Topaz Amoore.

Stephen Walls, executive chairman, said the deal answered criticism of the acquisition, which many analysts thought was too expensive, at some pounds 15m above net asset value. It was the first acquisition made by Albert Fisher since Mr Walls took over as chairman from Tony Miller last July.

The British Pepper & Spice Company has been bought by Burns Philp, the second largest processor and distributor of herbs and spices in North America.

'The deal has totally vindicated the price we paid for Hunter Saphir,' Mr Walls said yesterday. 'I think people had difficulty perceiving the value in that spice business but we had a number of calls expressing interest in it.

The herbs and spices business was blighted by a factory fire in 1989. The factory was rebuilt, but the business was left suffering from a loss of customers and overcapacity. At the time of the acquisition, Mr Walls warned that Albert Fisher would try to find an outside buyer because the business did not fit with the rest of the group.

'We organised a fairly quick sale because it is not good for anyone to work with a 'for sale' sign hanging above their heads.'

Albert Fisher's shares closed up 2p at 66p.