Forte gets pounds 400m offer for Gardner

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FORTE, the hotels group, has received an informal pounds 400m offer for its contract catering business from Sodexho, a French group, writes Neil Thapar.

News of the offer has emerged as Forte struggles to support its shares, which dropped by a third in the past three months.

There are also fears that the group may be forced to cut its dividend this year due to dismal trading conditions.

Forte has been looking for a buyer for Gardner Merchant, its contract catering subsidiary, for about a year. But despite attracting several potential bidders, it has yet to reach agreement.

Earlier this year it was forced to pull out of talks with joint bidders Compass and ARA Holdings, after discussions broke down over a price of about pounds 500m. In addition, Forte wants to sell the subsidiary as a single entity, whereas Compass would split its business.

Although Forte is thought to be making progress with the French, a deal is still considered some way off. The company has also decided to retain Gardner's airport catering business.

Last year Gardner made operating profits of pounds 31m on sales of pounds 864m. However, Forte's taxable profits collapsed from pounds 190m to pounds 73m in the year to 31 January.