Grimsey in charm offensive to woo Londis owners

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The Independent Online

Bill Grimsey vowed yesterday to win the hearts of Londis shareholders if his Big Food Group proceeded with a bid for the convenience store group.

He dismissed suggestions from some Londis franchisees, who forced their board to abandon a previously agreed takeover bid from Ireland's Musgrave, that his company, the owner of the Iceland supermarket chain, was not serious about bidding. Londis shareholders, fearful of the buying terms Big Food would seek to extract from them, have described Mr Grimsey's interest as "a joke".

But Mr Grimsey, the chief executive of BFG, insisted: "This is not a spoiling tactic. It has always been our objective to build an organisation capable of servicing a large network of stores." Buying Londis would more than double the number of sites in the Big Food Group to some 4,250. Mr Grimsey yesterday presented BFG's takeover case to KPMG, the consultancy firm charged with conducting an auction of Londis. BFG was invited to join any sales process that takes place.

His comments came as Big Food unveiled further evidence of the recovery at Iceland, with a steady increase in like-for-like sales. The company also announced that Mike Coupe, the managing director of the frozen food retailer, was stepping down. Underlying group sales for the third quarter grew by 2 per cent, with a 3.2 per cent rise over the five weeks to 2 January. At Iceland, underlying sales rose 1.9 per cent over the last five weeks.

The company, which has already spruced up 119 of its 750 Iceland stores, said it would convert a further 200 to the new-look format during its next financial year. Mr Grimsey admitted Mr Coupe's departure presented a "challenge" for the group. Mr Coupe, who will not receive a pay-off, will stay with the company until September.

The company was "prepared for price competition to heat up" following Wm Morrison's acquisition of Safeway, Mr Grimsey said, adding that he was "very pleased" with Iceland's performance.