The events at Premier Foods were in focus over the Easter weekend, along with the ongoing problems at BHS and Co-op’s victory in the unfair dismissal case.
The Sunday Times writes Premier CEO Gavin Darby is open to further takeover talks with US suitor McCormick after rejecting a near £500m bid last week. Darby has come under heavy fire from shareholders of the Oxo owner after dismissing the 60p a share offer – a 90% premium to the current share price – in favour of a partnership deal with Japanese rival Nissin Foods, which took a took a 17% stake in the business from private equity investor Warburg Pincus. The paper said Darby, who is set to hold talks with disgruntled shareholders this week, has left the door open for more talks with McCormick.
Sister paper The Times said on Friday that two of Premier’s shareholders roundly criticised the food manufacturer for failing to engage with McCormick, questioning the board’s objectivity. Standard Life and Paulson & Co, who own more than 14% of shares in Premier between them, said they were concerned the group had snubbed a takeover approach from McCormick.
The Sunday Telegraph reports that Premier is holding out for an improved offer before opening takeover talks with McCormick, despite mounting anger from shareholders. The Mail On Sunday writes that McCormick may be put off by rising costs stemming from the Premier pension deficit. “The huge increase from £6million this year to more than £40million a year until 2020 will be a key concern for food giant McCormick,” the paper says.
The travails of BHS continue as the Mail On Sunday writes that pressure is mounting on the retailer to explain to the Pension Protection Fund how it plans to deal with its £571m pension black hole. The Guardian reported on Friday that the state-backed PPF was poised to take a stake of at least 33% in BHS as the department store chain battled to restructure its retirement scheme and secure its survival. An analysis by the paper added Sir Philip Green and his family, along with other shareholders, have “extracted” £580m from the ailing retailer over the past 16 years. The Sunday Times adds BHS is close to raising £55m by selling the lease on its flagship London store on Oxford Street to Abu Dhabi’s ruling family.
The Co-op was in the spotlight following its victory in the unfair dismissal case with a former employee. The Financial Times picks up the Co-op’s call for businesses to take a stand against “unfounded” legal claims after the mutual defeated former senior executive Kath Harmeston who was seeking £5m for unfair dismissal. The Times reports on the case in which Harmeston claimed she was sacked because she was about to blow the whistle on a “feral institution where malpractice was rife”. The Sunday Telegraph features an interview with Co-op CEO Richard Pennycook ahead of this week’s annual results. The boss said the group had “the wind in our sails at the moment”, with energy levels “high.” The paper also has a separate story that the mutual is gearing up to re-educate its 70,000 staff about ethical values in the second phase of its turnaround.
On Friday The Times ran a story that Tesco had been accused of misleading shoppers by using fictitious farm names that sounded British to sell imported food. The new brand names used on labels include Woodside, Willow and Boswell farms for pork, chicken and beef; Nightingale and Redmere on salad and vegetables; and Rosedene on berries, apples and pears. Farmers said the labels were misleading as some of the produce had been imported from as far as New Zealand or South America.
The Independent on Sunday featured a Brexit/Easter story, with Brexit campaigners claiming Easter eggs would be cheaper if Britain left the EU. Unilateral trade deals with chocolate-producing countries Indonesia, Nigeria and Brazil could remove “punitive tariffs” imposed by Brussels on imports of cocoa-based sweet treats, Vote Leave said.
John Timpson, the chairman of the high street cobbler and key-cutter chain Timpsons, has backed a British exit from the European Union in the upcoming referendum, saying it would be a risk worth taking (The Sunday Telegraph). Timpson made the statement on BBC Radio’s Desert Island Discs.
Finally, The Sunday Times carries an interview with the new trade minister Mark Price, asking the outgoing Waitrose CEO if he is up to the task of doubling Britain’s exports. “I’m 110% committed to helping British business export and be the best it can be,” he said. “And I understand the stresses and strains that business is under.”