Unwins has five days to avoid going into administration

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The Independent Online

Unwins, one of Britain's biggest off-licence chains, has until Tuesday to find a buyer or rescue package or it will go into administration.

The struggling 380-outlet chain, which was acquired by DM Private Equity for £32m including debt in March, already secured an emergency cash injection from its owner recently to keep it trading. It emerged yesterday that potential trade and private-equity bidders were circling the company, but it was unclear how serious their interest was. Terra Firma, which owns the off-licence chain Threshers, has been mooted as a possible suitor.

The directors of Unwins Wine Group and Unwins Limited filed an application to the High Court in London on Monday to place the two companies in administration. The businesses are now in an "interim moratorium" and their fate will be decided at a court hearing on Tuesday. The directors have held talks with Andrew Pepper, a partner at the administrators Kroll. The application made under the insolvency act serves as a short-term protection against creditors such as landlords and suppliers.

Unwins is selling off 40 stores and has shut several more after running down stocks for months. It has also made some 190 staff redundant, out of a workforce of about 2,000. It is believed to owe about £10m, mainly to drink suppliers such as Diageo.

Unwins, which was founded in 1843, is the largest off-licence chain in the south-east of England. DM acquired the business from the Wetz family who had controlled it since 1921 and merged it with the wine and spirit importer Phillips Newmans.

DM funded the £32m purchase through a sale and leaseback of Unwins' 96 freehold shops to the property group Helical Bar. In September, Phillip Cook, who chairs both Unwins and DM, announced a major restructuring of the business, including a rationalisation of the chain's supplier base. The group cut the number of products it stocks from "several thousands" to "several hundreds".

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