Princes' £180m bid puts Premier brands in can

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The Independent Online

Household brands Crosse & Blackwell and Fray Bentos have been snapped up by food-and-drink group Princes for £177.4m.

Their acquisition forms part of an agreement to buy Premier Foods' canned grocery operation including factories at Long Sutton in Lincolnshire and Wisbech in Cambridgeshire which employ more than 1,000 people. Princes, which is based in Liverpool, will also take on £4.6m debt. It has also secured a long-term licence to make products such as baked beans and pasta in cans under the Branston and Batchelors brands.

The sale comes less than a month after Premier offloaded its meat-substitute business Quorn for £205m in a drive to lower its debt mountain, which stood at £1.4bn in June. It will also enable the company to focus on key brands such as Hovis and Mr Kipling.

Princes, which has grown from being an importer of canned fish into a supplier of products ranging from fruit juice and canned meat to microwave meals and sandwich spreads, will have annual revenues of £1.5bn following the deal. It will also have 13 production sites and a 4,500-strong workforce.

As well as Crosse & Blackwell and Fray Bentos, Premier is also selling the brands Farrows and Smedley's.

Premier's East Anglian canned grocery operation achieved sales in the region of £334m and underlying earnings of £32m in 2010.

The disposal excludes Premier Foods' Ambrosia branded canned desserts operations in Lifton, Devon.