Celebrity ready meals group makes feast of AIM debut

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The Independent Online

A son of one of the country's top blue-blooded families yesterday toasted the stock market debut of his new ready-meals company.

A son of one of the country's top blue-blooded families yesterday toasted the stock market debut of his new ready-meals company.

Alexander Spencer-Churchill, the socialite and nephew of the Duke of Marlborough, has forsaken his family's traditional careers in government and the military for a seat on the board of Conival.

Mr Spencer-Churchill, the cousin of the Marquess of Blandford, plans to develop and sell ready-meals created by third-party suppliers to the recipes of celebrity chefs.

Conival is targeting the premium end of a market it estimates to be worth £2bn a year.

The company is chaired by Richard Thompson, the colourful entrepreneur who bought and sold Viyella and Jaeger two years ago and recently considered a bid for Aston Villa, the Premiership football club.

Mr Thompson's father, David, a former Smithfield market meat trader, founded Hillsdown food group in 1975. He sold the business in the 1980s and is now worth an estimated £400m.

The day-to-day running of Conival is likely to fall to John Maundrell, whose previous boardroom credits include Virtual Internet and Xworks and, currently, the telecoms tiddler Canisp and the dance music website Internet Music & Media.

He said: "In the past few years, there has been a trend towards celebrities endorsing food products. We believe that we have identified a demand in the market for celebrity designed and branded ready-made meals which we are able to address."

Placed at 3p by the broker WH Ireland, the shares improved 5.75p to 8.75p on their first day's trading on AIM. That values the company at about £2m.

Conival plans to use the £438,000 it raised to kick start the business, and is actively looking for potential brands to buy. The company expects to sign up its first celebrity chef within the next couple of months. Then, investors who took shares at 3p have agreed to take more stock at 10p.

Also making their debut on the junior market yesterday, Printing.com shares improved 4.5p on a placing price of 30p. The Manchester-based design and print specialist will use the £900,000 it raised in the placing to bolster its balance sheet to help grow its franchise business.

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