As supermarkets and private equity types run the sliderule over Iceland, in anticipation of a summer sale, maverick founder Malcolm Walker is making another of his (suitably) icy expeditions.
After last year’s North Pole venture, this week he was expressing relief as, on a march to conquer Everest, the reported loss of a truck down a ravine, containing the team’s entire supply of beer (and heavy breathing equipment), was compensated for by the supply of wine remaining intact!
But what does Walker’s wanderlust say about his autumn vows to buy back the business from Landsbanki, Iceland’s Icelandic majority-share owners?
On the one hand, it reflects his absolute mastery of this unique business (which continues to perform ahead of the market) that he can entrust it to his senior team. On the other, at 65, is his mind now elsewhere?
I am sure he would love to wrest control, but would this most canny of operators not seek to extricate the business from its messy ownership situation, and sell it on at a profit to a buyer who hasn’t the stomach for such a complicated uncoupling, but needs the 1.8% share and extra buying power.
Walker’s difficulty is twofold: who would want it? And who else could run it? With Asda’s Andy Clarke and Sainsbury’s Mike Coupe having their fingers burnt in their stints at the frozen discounter, and Tesco hidebound by competition issues, that leaves Morrisons as the obvious trade buyer.
The rumour is that Morrisons is eyeing Martin McColl (or at least 300 of its c-stores) to enter the convenience market, but if Morrisons favours a mid-size convenience high-street format, an Iceland deal would give it far greater penetration. In an ideal situation, Iceland’s owners would want to extract the maximum value by dealing direct.
Walker frozen out? Malcolm, watch your step!