Clarke Foods feels the chill

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The Independent Online
CLARKE Foods, the fast-growing ice-cream company, is facing a crisis of confidence in anticipation of its interim figures due on 3 August. Henry Clarke, the chairman, said his interim statement 'will include the fullest statement ever made about the ice-cream market in this country'.

Sales have been affected by the reorganisation of the factories inherited from the rundown Lyons Maid business that Clarke bought earlier this year from Allied Lyons. The shares have fallen 60p to 100p over the past few weeks, amid claims of dumping by some institutional holders. Mr Clarke and his fellow director Martin Riley also sold 300,000 shares before the price fell.

On Friday, there was a further blow to hopes of loosening the grip held on the market by Walls, the Unilever subsidiary. The European Commission has decided not to challenge the company's right to ensure that confectioners who use freezer cabinets supplied by Walls do not stock rival products.

The decision is a blow to Mars, which introduced a successful range of premium ice creams in the last few years and has been challenging the Walls' monopoly since. Walls is estimated to have 70,000 exclusive freezers, while Lyons Maid has 20,000, and a similar number are owned by the retailers.

Mr Clarke had already made a fortune in up-market ice creams in the US before he bought three ice-cream companies from Hillsdown Holdings in February 1991. His plans for the combined Hillsdown-Lyons Maid business include a range of premium ice creams under the Clarke name.