Matthews team has 'no intention' of accepting offer

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The tussle over the UK's biggest turkey producer took a fresh turn yesterday as the family and management behind Bernard Matthews plc said they had "no intention" of accepting any offer from Sara Lee, the US bras-to-coffee group, or from any other third party.

The tussle over the UK's biggest turkey producer took a fresh turn yesterday as the family and management behind Bernard Matthews plc said they had "no intention" of accepting any offer from Sara Lee, the US bras-to-coffee group, or from any other third party.

Sara Lee last week indicated that it may or may not launch a rival bid for the Norfolk-based company, hours after the Matthews family announced its plans to take the group private. The family buyout deal valued the business at £232m, or 185p per share. Shares in Bernard Matthews closed up 1p at 203p yesterday.

In a statement accompanying its offer document yesterday, the family and management buyout team, who together own 42.2 per cent of the company's share capital, said they were not open to rival approaches. But in a caveat, they added: "In the unlikely event that an offer from any third party became unconditional, since Bernard Matthews [the group's chairman], the other Matthews family members and the management team would then be minority shareholders... they reserve the right to accept such an offer in these circumstances."

The buyout group also stated that it was considering offering a partial share alternative to sweeten its bid, so that shareholders could emerge with a stake in the private company. Mr Matthews said: "Since we made our offer, a number of people have contacted me and said 'It's such a pity we can't continue with you, Bernard'."

The independent directors of the company, who will resign from the board if the Matthews family succeeds in taking the group private, said that in the absence of any firm offer from Sara Lee they would continue to recommend the family-backed bid. But they added: "Independent shareholders may wish to await developments prior to deciding whether to accept the offer."

Sara Lee showed no sign of abandoning its interest yesterday. The group is expected to take seven days to examine its options, but must then launch an official bid or walk away.

If it takes longer to make a move, it will have lost out on the chance to win acceptances from Royal & SunAlliance, the insurance company that owns 4.5 per cent of the plc. R&S has given an irrevocable undertaking to back the Matthews family bid unless a rival offer, representing an improvement of at least 10 per cent on the original bid, emerges within a week of the offer document's posting.

To clinch a takeover, Sara Lee would have to persuade 50.01 per cent of shareholders to support its counter-bid. Analysts said its success could depend on winning acceptances from the trusts in which a large percentage of the family shareholdings are held. The Matthews buyout team yesterday claimed it had already secured the "binding" agreement of trustees to transfer their stakes to the new private company. It was unclear what, if any, conditions were attached to this pledge.

Comments