Abel & Cole sets its stall out for a £30m sale


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The Independent Online

Abel & Cole, the online organic grocer, is preparing its second attempt to sell the business , with an estimated price tag of more than £30m, following a stalled sale process last year.

The fruit and vegetable delivery firm is expected to issue an information memorandum to potential buyers next month, which could attract the interest of private equity firms and retailers. Abel & Cole is working with advisers at the accountancy firm PwC to sell the business after turning around its performance in the past two years.

Keith Abel, the delivery firm's chief executive, founded the company in 1988 from the basement of a house in south-east London and it now delivers to more than 50,000 households each week.

Abel & Cole grew sales by 25 per cent to £35.74m for the year to 31 August 2011 The UK's fourth and fifth biggest supermarkets, Morrisons and the Co-operative Group, which do not deliver food online, could ask to see Abel & Cole's information memorandum. The online grocer Ocado, which has never made a pre-tax profit, will also monitor the situation carefully.

Mr Abel sold most of the business he founded to the buyout firm Phoenix Equity Partners in October 2007, in a deal that valued the company at about £40m. But Abel & Cole's performance subsequently started to go downhill and it was forced into a "debt-for-equity" swap in early 2010 with its lender, Lloyds Banking Group. The bank remains its biggest shareholder, with Mr Abel and Phoenix holding minority stakes.

Mr Abel returned to turnaround its fortunes two years ago and Abel & Cole delivered pre-tax profits of £1.88m in the year to the end of August, with underlying earnings coming at about £3m. All parties declined to comment.