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Spice company is hot share tip

A HUSBAND-AND-WIFE team whose Indian food ingredients company was founded 30 years ago in a basement in London's Euston to fry up samosas for homesick immigrant families is considering a stock-market flotation later this year.

Kirit Pathak imitates Body Shop's Anita Roddick by making frequent trips abroad to track down new ingredients for curry pastes, liquid cooking sauces and mango chutneys . His wife, Meena, is responsible for the development of new recipes.

The secret blend of ingredients is prepared in the kitchen at the Wigan factory where the Pathaks moved in 1978 to take advantage of the famed south Lancashire moistness to store their spices.

Reports circulating in the regional press say their company, Patak Spices, is looking at the possibility of either a full listing or a debut on the more lightly regulated Alternative Investment Market.

It is unclear how much of the equity might be sold, or what price the family-owned firm might fetch, but demand from potential investors would be strong. Widely regarded as one of the best-run private companies in the North-west, Patak won Marketing magazine's award for the fastest-growing brand in 1994, beating off challenges from the likes of Sega, Carling Black Label and Walkers Crisps.

Patak has come from nowhere to take the number two spot and a 22 per cent share of the pounds 47m Indian food market behind Sharwoods, the market leader owned by the Tomkins conglomerate.

Spurred on by the trend towards convenient - but authentic - ethnic food, Patak's annual sales are expected grow by 25 per cent this year to reach pounds 30m, Apart from the consumer market, Patak also supplies more than 90 per cent of Britain's 10,000 Indian restaurants and exports almost a third of its products to 43 countries. It recently teamed up with Minnesota- based Hormel Foods to market its spices in the US.

Asked about possible flotation plans, Mr Pathak said: "The company is privately owned and will remain that way."