Curry king Noon takes away pounds 50m

AN INDIAN businessman who came to Britain in the 1970s has netted a pounds 50m fortune after selling his chilled and frozen curries business to WT Foods, the ethnic food group.

Gulam Noon, 62, will receive pounds 35m in cash from the deal, with the remainder payable in WT Food shares and loan notes.

Mr Noon set up Noon Group in Southall, west London, in 1987 after being disappointed with the standard of Indian foods available in supermarkets.

The business grew rapidly and it is now a major provider of ready-made Indian meals to top supermarket names such as Sainsbury's and Waitrose.

Mr Noon, who will continue to run the business, said yesterday that he had no immediate plans for the cash. "It's just numbers," he said. But he went on to add: "England is my adopted country and it has been very good to me. It has offered me a lot of opportunities, and I want to put something back. I want to establish some charitable foundations here."

The businessman, born near Bombay, took over his family's confectionery business in the 1960s. He came to Britain in the 1970s and initially set up a sweets business before forming Noon Products in 1987. In the eight months to August the company generated profits of pounds 1.74m on sales of pounds 23.7m.

Mr Noon, who was named Asian Businessman of the Year in 1994, said that he did not regret losing control of the company, and he had not considered a stock market flotation. "There is only so much you can do with a family business before you need to bring in additional professional management."

He disputed reports that he had criticised the City for its attitude towards Asian entrepreneurs. "Asian businessmen should not be shy of taking advantage of the City. I have a lot of faith in it," Mr Noon said.

WT Foods is financing the deal with a placing and open offer priced at 50p per share to raise pounds 25.9m. The remainder of the finance will come from bank facilities and loan notes.

Trading in WT Foods shares was suspended at 52.5p in October pending the confirmation of the deal.

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