Hillsdown poultry breeder sold to buyout for pounds 100m

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The Independent Online
HILLSDOWN HOLDINGS, the food conglomerate which demerged its chilled foods and housebuilding businesses in the summer, has sold the Ross Breeders poultry business to a management buyout for pounds 100m.

However, deteriorating market conditions have disrupted the remainder of Hillsdown's disposal programme. The furniture division, which includes Christie Tyler, has been taken off the market after venture capital buyers backed off. They had been offering around pounds 160m compared to Hillsdown's asking price of pounds 175m.

The remainder of the poultry business, which is struggling against over- supply and the effects of the strong pound, will not now be sold. Neither will the potatoes division, where the level of offers has been disappointing.

Of the original disposal programme, only the continental bakeries and wine and spirits operations are still on the market. Discussions over these sales are continuing, Hillsdown said.

The proceeds from the Ross Breeders disposal will be used to reduce debt, which will stand at pounds 245m following the deal, Hillsdown said.

In a current trading statement, the company said the grocery and furniture divisions were trading satisfactorily, but there has been no improvement in the fortunes of the poultry business.

The buyout of Ross Breeders has been backed by the venture capital group, BC Partners. The business will continue to be run by John Ewart, Ross's chief executive.

Ross Breeders specialises in genetically bred poultry stock, which is supplied to farmers for breeding. It has 11 hatcheries and 147 farms worldwide. Last year it recorded operating profits of pounds 11.1m on sales of pounds 64.5m.

Hillsdown shares closed unchanged at 75p.