Receivers in but Clarke rescue hopes linger on

Clarke Foods, the ice-cream company that aimed to put the oomph back into Zoom lollies, yesterday saw its ambitions melt as it asked its bankers to appoint a receiver.

The receivers are, however, optimistic that they can keep the company going while they agree a restructuring. That could involve a cash injection from shareholders and creditors, or finding a new investor who would take over the management of the group.

That would carry echoes of the origins of the company two years ago, when Henry Clarke and his son Robert took control of Yelverton Investments, effectively a shell company, with the aim of revitalising the ice-cream market, These ambitions took off last year when it acquired the Lyons Maid ice-cream business from Allied Lyons.

Mr Clarke, who made his name with the Klondike bar, America's biggest-selling novelty ice cream, aimed to cover all parts of the market from children's lollies to luxury ice-cream. But commissioning of a new state-of-the-art production facility was delayed, while a massive advertising campaign had already begun, which left it unable to meet demand. By the time the plant was commissioned, the best of the summer was over and the group was faced with severe cash-flow problems.

Ipe Jacob, one of the the joint receivers from Robson Rhodes, said yesterday that the group's debts were pounds 20m to pounds 25m. He added that there had been approaches from 'all sorts of people, on all sorts of bases' since the company's difficulties had emerged.

He has made 100 people at the Greenford manufacturing site redundant, including Mr Clarke - although he remains a director. Mr Jacob does not expect more job losses among the 460 remaining staff.

Clarke's shares were suspended at 8p at the beginning of the month while it tried to agree a restructuring with its bankers, National Westminster. But these proved too complicated and the group was finally forced to ask it to appoint a receiver to avoid the danger of trading while insolvent.

Mr Clarke and his family are the largest shareholders, with 25 per cent between them. Next largest is Hillsdown Holdings, with 13.83 per cent and all the preference shares.

Hillsdown said it would not be interested in buying the company, and the pounds 7.6m book value of the holding will be charged as an extraordinary item in its 1992 accounts.

Allied Lyons is also owed between pounds 3.5m and pounds 4m deferred consideration.

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