Caffè Nero to go private ahead of expansion into Middle East

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The Independent Online

The board of the independent coffee chain Caffè Nero yesterday accepted a 270p-a-share offer from the company's management, just a few months after the group had knocked back an unofficial bid of 300p a share from a trade buyer.

Although the management buyout now looks certain to proceed ­ with two-thirds of shareholders havingacceptedthe bid ­ it is believed a few shareholders remain unhappy that the company had knocked back a higher bid.

Founder, chief executive and chairman Gerry Ford will cash in £5m of shares from the deal, but will roll over £47m of his holding into the new private company. The private equity group Paladin will also retain its stake in the company, as will a handful of other key management investors.

Mr Ford said it was right to embark on the next phase of the group's expansion as a private company. "We hope to try to take the brand internationally, and so, in doing that, it's a pretty big shake-up, a lot riskier and a longer-term game for investors to reap rewards."

He said the company was particularly interested in the Middle East where, he said, he had been surprised to discover a thriving coffee shop culture. Starbucks has 150 outlets in the region.

The group is also interested in northern Europe. "In northern Europe ... you have relative wealth and high consumption of coffee and increasingly the understanding of high-quality coffee," said Mr Ford. "Quality Italian coffee, which is what we have, doesn't exist in a number of those countries. So we think there is good opportunity there."

He said the company would use a similar strategy abroad to its formula in the UK, but said it would make small changes to tailor the shops to the local markets.

Mr Ford floated the group more than five years ago, at 50p a share. " Since then, it has grown from 58 stores to the 290 stores which the company has today," he said.

The deal is expected to complete in mid to late January.