Vimto group toasts £5.5m deal for Panda Pops maker

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The Independent Online

The family-owned brewery that concocted the "deadly looking" Panda Pops children's drinks brand pocketed £5.5m in cash yesterday when it sold the business to Nichols, the owner of Vimto.

The family-owned brewery that concocted the "deadly looking" Panda Pops children's drinks brand pocketed £5.5m in cash yesterday when it sold the business to Nichols, the owner of Vimto.

The fifth generation of the Woodhouse family, who controls the Dorset-based brewer, Hall & Woodhouse, will share the proceeds from the disposal. The brand was put up for sale after the brewer decided to focus on running its pub estate and brewing its Badger ales.

John Nichols, the chairman of Nichols, said Panda would "bring scale" to its existing portfolio, which includes the UK rights to Sunkist.

He defended the range of soft drinks, which comprises such flavours as Blue Raspberryade. "They might look incredibly bad but they are perfectly safe," he said. He conceded that "if you drink 20 of them in one go you might see a reaction" but added: "For kids, the brighter the colour, the better the drink. The colours are nothing like as strong as they used to be."

Children's health experts warn that letting children consume drinks or food that are packed with synthetic colourings or flavour enhancers can cause hyperactivity. The Children's Food Advisory Service recommends parents steer clear of "suspect food additives".

Panda Pops, which are sold in lunchbox-sized plastic bottles at "pocket money" prices, were invented 30 years ago by Hall & Woodhouse. The brewer, founded in 1777, decided last year to stop making the drink, opting instead to outsource their manufacturing. It is selling the brand and its registered trademarks to Nichols, rather than any assets. In addition to the fizzy drinks range, Panda includes a range of sugar-free, fruit-flavoured still drinks and flavoured waters. It also sells Panda Clear, pure spring water.

Mr Nichols said he expected most of the brand's growth to come from the non-fizzy drinks ranges. He said Panda, which has annual sales of about £11.5m, was profitable. Hall & Woodhouse accounted for the brand within its total business, which made profits before tax of £7m last year, up from £5m, according to accounts filed at Companies House.

Nichols sold its food manufacturing divisions 14 months ago or £11.6m in cash to focus on growing its soft drinks business.

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