Weston family takes Fortnum & Mason private

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The Independent Online

Fortnum & Mason is set to become wholly-owned by the Weston family after advising shareholders to accept a £57.8m offer to take the London department store private.

Wittington Investments, the Westons' private investment firm, has offered 600p per share for the 10.1 per cent of Fortnum's that it does not already own, a 69 per cent premium to Monday's closing share price.

The cash offer was prompted by the stock's lack of liquidity. The luxury grocer, which delivers tea to the Queen and is famed for its food hampers, was asked in March by the UK Listing Authority to rectify the position that less than 25 per cent of the shares were tradable. Guy Weston, Wittington's chairman and a third-generation Weston, said: "Minority shareholders are unable to realise the full value of their investment."

The Piccadilly-based store has been run by the Weston clan since Garfield Weston – the philanthropic Canadian who introduced sliced bread to Britain – bought it in the Fifties. Jana Khayat, his granddaughter, succeeded her father, Garry, as chairman last year after a stroke forced him to retire. The Westons also control 54.5 per cent of Associated British Foods and recently bought Heals, the home-furnishings group.

Fortnum's said sales since 11 September had fallen 13 per cent compared with last year. It reported a pre-tax profit of £2.25m in the year to 14 July on sales of £41.63m. Yesterday its shares rose 65 per cent to 585p, although none were traded.

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