Merlin's spell lures gum giant

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The Independent Online
A US company that markets Bazooka bubblegum and baseball cards has given its seal of approval to the Independent on Sunday's league of Britain's fastest-growing privately-owned companies by buying this year's winner, writes Roger Trapp.

The Topps Company, which is quoted on Nasdaq and has annual sales of about $265m (pounds 170m), is paying about $50m for Merlin Publishing International, the company behind the football sticker craze.

Milton Keynes-based Merlin topped the fifth annual listing of independent companies, compil-ed in association with accountants Price Waterhouse, through achieving annual sales growth of more than 100 per cent over five years. Last year, sales and profits nearly doubled again, to pounds 35m and pounds 3.8m respectively.

The deal gives substantial profits to Gieves Group, the owner of the tailor Gieves & Hawkes, which took a 7 per cent stake at the beginning, and to Patricia Kluge, the ex-wife of US billionaire John Kluge, who later acquired 40 per cent of the company from the founders.

The proposed sale will be completed in June, subject to Office of Fair Trading approval.