Albert Fisher talks to potential bidder

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The Independent Online
Albert Fisher, the produce and seafood company, said yesterday that it had received an approach which might lead to an offer for the group. Though some analysts believe the approach could be a break-up bid from a financial buyer others say the bidder was a food group from outside the UK, possibly from the United States.

Among potential food buyers analysts were tipping were Dole, an American group which is one of the largest exporters of bananas into the European Union.

Albert Fisher shares soared 37 per cent to 46.5p on the announcement, valuing the company at pounds 337m. City analysts said the bid was well-timed as the shares have fallen close to their five-year low recently.

The company, chaired by Stephen Walls, has long been tipped as a recovery prospect as it seeks to move away from commodity produce markets to more added-value products. But the shares have had a dreadful run as its food operations have continually been hit by weather-related problems. Its latest set of results were damaged by freezing weather which affected its cockles harvest.

Unigate, Geest and Ahold, the Dutch supermarket group are not thought to be interested though early speculation mentioned all three.

If Albert Fisher does fall victim to a takeover it would mean a third bumper pay-off in seven years for Mr Walls. He received a rumoured pounds 1m in 1990 following the takeover of Plessey, the telecommunications group, following its merger with GEC.

Two years later he was paid pounds 800,000 in compensation from Arjo Wiggins Appleton, the paper group, following a disagreement over strategy.

Mr Walls is on a two-year contract. Last year he received total pay of pounds 403,000. He also has 1.3 million share options exercisable at 64.5p and a further 500,000 at 58p.

A takeover would mean a brief tenure as chief executive for Neil England who only joined the company in November.

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