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Fish paste maker Shippam's to float

Shippam's, whose meat and fish pastes are still synonymous with school-trip packed lunches, is planning a stock market flotation. The proposed public quote, within three years, was disclosed following a management buy-in of the business this weekend from Grand Metropolitan.

Steven Joseph, who with other directors has invested "several hundred thousand pounds" for just over a third of the company, believes Shippam's has a bright future in the fast growing chilled ready meals market.

He plans to use the paste maker as a springboard for a sequence of food company acquisitions to create a business he hopes will have sales of around pounds 200m by the time of its stock market debut.

This weekend's buy-in, thought to have a value of just under pounds 20m, was backed by NatWest Ventures, which is also expected to provide finance for Shippam's acquisitive growth. It has taken 65 per cent of the company's equity, with other debt provided by Bank of Scotland.

According to Mr Joseph, market research has shown that the Shippam's name could be readily transferred to food products beyond its traditional expertise in the little ribbed jars. It is looking at moving into packaged groceries and other recipe dishes.

"Shippam is an established business with a well known brand name which will continue to develop its range of sandwich products and ready meals," he said. "The backing of NatWest Ventures will provide us with the financial strength to grow the business."

It is currently in canned ready-made curries but these have been losing out to the chilled meals that have been such as success for retailers such as Marks & Spencer and Sainsbury's.

Shippam's was founded more than 200 years ago and was a family-run business until its acquisition by American food group Pet in the 1980s. GrandMet acquired Pet two years ago.