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FTSE-listed meat giant in talks to buy Icelandic Seachill

HILTON Food Group, the UK-based FTSE listed meat specialist, has emerged as a potential buyer for Grimsby’s Icelandic Seachill.

FTSE-listed meat giant in talks to buy Icelandic Seachill understands it is in exclusive talks with the team behind The Saucy Fish Co, which was offered up for sale in April after surging back into profit after a successful turnaround.

Representatives from both Icelandic Seachill and Hilton declined to confirm, but it seems a natural fit as both are core suppliers to supermarket giant Tesco, seen as king-maker for any deal.

Hilton also issued a statement confirming it was "at an early stage of discussions" in relation to an acquisition, as its shares closed up 3.5 per cent at 705p.  At 9.15am today it was up to 739.5p.

A spokesman said: "There can be no certainty at this time whether any agreement on such transaction will be reached, and a further announcement will be made as and when appropriate."

Hilton, a £1.2 billion firm, made a £34 million profit in 2016, and in its latest trading statement, it underlined an appetite to “explore opportunities to invest in and to grow the business in both domestic and overseas markets”.

Based in Huntingdon, it was set up to provide beef and lamb packing for Tesco in 1994. It has grown significantly in the UK and abroad, with the buy-out of a packing facility in Holland, new-build factories in four more European countries, as well as joint venture agreements in Australia and Portugal.

International interests would complement Icelandic’s export strategy, and while entering seafood would be a big step, Hilton has already diversified into ‘breakfast meats’ and fresh pizza. With the strong management team in place in Grimsby, it could be business as usual if it came off.

Should Hilton look to develop a brand, The Saucy Meat Co trademark is also held by the Grimsby seafood giant, alongside its seven-year-old success story in seafood, which this year hit the freezer too. It recently secured a second listing for the sub-zero category having gone to market exclusively with Sainsbury’s.

Icelandic, which returned a £4.3 million operating profit in its last financial year, was founded in 1998 and operates from two huge plants either side of the A180 entrance to Grimsby. It is a perennial fixture in the Coolbrands list, and the recent sub-zero campaign focused on 'frozen getting cooler' as it encouraged growth in the freezer category.

Earlier speculation following April’s sale announcement, on the back of another European divestment by the Reykjavik owners, had focused on 2 Sisters Food Group, a Tesco supplier of poultry that had already made the protein leap to fish with the purchase of Grimsby’s Five Star Fish and other facilities in Cumbria. It was, however, ruled out by those close to the deal.

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