Frozen out Iceland chief plans comeback with rival chain

Malcolm Walker, the former chairman of Iceland, the frozen food retailer, is planning a new frozen food venture to compete directly with the business he founded.
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Malcolm Walker, the former chairman of Iceland, the frozen food retailer, is planning a new frozen food venture to compete directly with the business he founded.

The surprise move comes just months after Mr Walker quit Iceland in January in an attempt to defuse a City row over his sale of £13m of shares just weeks before a profits warning. That issue is still being investigated by the Financial Services Authority.

It is understood Mr Walker is planning a chain of frozen food shops starting with a single store in Wrexham, close to where he opened the first Iceland store in Oswestry in 1970. He has hired the deputy manager of the Iceland store in Wrexham to work with him. In a further twist he plans to source his goods from Booker, the cash & carry chain which merged with Iceland last year.

One possible name for the store is thought to be Frozen Out, a cryptic reference to how Mr Walker believes he was ousted from Iceland. But the name is so bizarre that it may be a joke.

Mr Walker's friends say his motives may include vengeance or a desire to demonstrate his entrepreneurial talents once again. "His wife thinks he's mad," one friend said. "But though he may be mad, he is not stupid."

Iceland made a tough statement on Mr Walker's plans. "Iceland has a non-compete clause with Malcolm for two years. If these rumours are true the company will take all steps open to it."

Though it admits that a single store is unlikely to cause financial damage to Iceland, which has £5bn of sales, they say it is an unnecessary distraction.

Mr Walker left Iceland in January after the company issued a shock profits warning due to a surprise decline in sales over Christmas, due partly to poor sales of organic foods. The warning came little more than a month after the company had told a group of City analysts that management was "positive on the group's future prospects".

In the days immediately after that meeting Mr Walker sold 4 million Iceland shares at 339p, netting about £13m.

Since then Bill Grimsey, the former Wickes chief executive, has been appointed chief executive and has started to rebuild the business.

The shares, however, are still well below their peak and closed down a further 4.75p yesterday at 174.5p.

Outlook, page 19

Comments