Uniq still in talks over £436m pensions deficit

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Uniq, the chilled foods specialist battling to plug a £436m pension deficit, said talks were continuing over a restructuring of its retirement scheme, as it reported that Christmas trading was close to expectations yesterday.

Uniq said detailed discussions were ongoing with the pension regulator and the trustee of its main pension scheme about a deficit for equity swap it proposed last year. The company, formerly the state-owned dairy Unigate, faced being wound up because of its pension deficit, a legacy from the days when it employed thousands of milkmen.

It has proposed that the pension scheme take a 90 per cent stake in Uniq and £15m cash to plug the gap, which dwarfs Uniq's market value of £8m.

Uniq also said that discussions were proceeding well with Lloyds Banking Group over a new £25m banking facility.

Uniq, which sells desserts, sandwiches and salads to retailers such as Marks and Spencer, said sales grew 3.1 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2010, driven by strong growth in sandwich sales.

Sales of desserts were down 1.7 per cent, impacted by price increases, lower sales of Cadbury products because of fewer promotions and a fall in cottage cheese sales volumes. Uniq said it had decided to stop producing cottage cheese in 2011.

The company also warned that rising commodity prices would add to the pressure of an extremely tough market place this year.