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Private equity group link with seafood distibutors in major new deal
Time: 2006/9/18 7:57:12 -
   ANOTHER big private equity company from the City of London has
bought a major stake in on of the UK's fastest growing seafood businesses.
Risk Capital Partners, the private equity fund owned by Channel 4 chairman Luke Johnson, has hooked up with fresh fish distributor Seafood Holdings Ltd in a deal valuing the company at more than £12m.
Although based in the South East, Seafood Holdings has strong links with the Humber having a direct connection with Scotprime Seafood (Grimsby) Ltd.
A spokesman for Risk Capital Partners said interest in the seafood industry was growing because of the perceived health benefits of eating fish. "Restaurants are putting a lot more fish items on their menus and it seems that fish is becoming popular with women when they eat out and people who may have a thing about eating meat but are quite happy to eat fish."
He added: "It is our intention to grow the business."
Luke Johnson's buy-out company has bought a substantial minority stake, thought to be in the region of 40 per cent in Seafood Holdings Ltd. The business supplies wild, farmed and exotic fish plus seafood to restaurants such as J Sheekey and the Loch Fyne chain.
Risk Capital's investment will fund an acquisition drive by the company which is projected to have sales of £50m by 2007. Seafood Partners was set up by Toby Baxendale in 1992, who will retain a majority of the equity.
Some time ago he spotted the growing British appetite for fresh fish, which has become increasingly popular on restaurant menus as a healthy alternative to meat. He is reported to have met Mr Johnson at a party earlier this year.
Luke Johnson said: "People are willing to experiment with fish and it's a growing market." He is no stranger to the restaurant trade and was one of the original entrepreneurs behind the Pizza Express chain and last year sold his stake in Signature Restaurants ĘC owner of The Ivy, Le Caprice and Strada chain
The company has come a long way since 1983 when the Gower family took advantage of the fact that a lot of East Anglian based fisherman land fish in Harwich and other local ports.
They decided to buy directly from the boats and initially sold fish and shellfish to households and soldiers in the Colchester barracks where they were based. The demand for totally fresh local produce was so great that the business soon established its own supply base to leading country house hotels, restaurants and pubs.
After 20 years in the business, Lyn Gower, who was one of the founders, retired and sold out to the food entrepreneur, Toby Baxendale, who had extensive quality meat and interests in the catering industry.In 2002, the purchase of the former Cutty Catering depot in London allowed Direct Seafoods to expand into the London market.
Last year the company purchased Scotprime Seafoods (Grimsby) Ltd, one of Grimsby's largest fish merchants, which ensured it had access to the cream of what is caught in the North Atlantic. The incorporation of the Grimsby depot also allows us to expand our presence within the UK to serve catering establishments in the North.
Private equity company currently hold majority interests in Young's Bluecrest, Findus in northern Europe and just over a month ago Permira paid £1.15billion for the frozen food arm of Unilever which includes the Birds Eye and Iglo brands.
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