Bidders line up for next round of Woolies talks

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The Independent Online

Ten "serious" bidders – including Dragon's Den star Theo Paphitis and property tycoon Ardeshir Naghshineh – will return to the table this week for talks with Woolworths' administrators as the race to buy the collapsed retailer's assets heats up. The talks held by Woolies' administrator Deloitte, which will initially concentrate on those offering the "more chunky proposals," according to an insider, resume today and will continue all week.

Since the group was put into administration, Deloitte's phone has been ringing off the hook. It has received more than 300 expressions of interest, ranging from potential bids for the going concern, to those interested in just one store or even some of its stock.

The insider said: "There are about 10 parties working on a 'serious' deal, and the administrators are obviously concentrating on those at the moment."

On Friday, Mr Paphitis met Deloitte to discuss potential options relating to Woolies' retail arm, which comprises 815 stores across the UK.

The Cypriot-born businessman has made a career out of turning round struggling companies. He is currently chairman of Ryman the Stationer, which he took out of receivership in 1995, is a non-executive of lingerie store La Senza and was previously chairman of Millwall Football Club. One source close to the talks said: "Mr Paphitis is one of a number of parties to have registered interest and come in for talks. There will be further discussions from Monday."

There are currently no firm offers on the table, but interested parties are understood to include Tony Page, the Woolies store chief and former Asda director, who could team up with other managers for a potential deal.

Mr Naghshineh, who has seen the value of his 10 per cent stake in Woolies vanish, is also putting together a team to oversee a deal and Jon Moulton, the head of private equity firm Alchemy Partners, is also interested.

Some of the UK's largest supermarket chains are also circling, as they look to pick off prime retail sites. These include J Sainsbury, Asda, Iceland, the Co-op and Tesco. Others understood to have expressed an interest include Netto Aldi, HMV and Boots.

There will also be talks over the sale of Woolies' 2 Entertain DVD publishing business and EUK, its joint venture with the BBC.

The rush for Woolies' assets was triggered after it emerged the floundering group was in talks with US distressed asset buyer Hilco, to sell its retail arm for £1.

The company, which was set to celebrate its centenary next year, saw negotiations collapse and went into administration on Wednesday.

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