THE Hilton Food Group, one of Britain’s largest red meat suppliers, confirmed last night that it is in early stage talks with Icelandic Seachill about buying the big Grimsby seafood business.
But it stressed that it was still uncertain that the negotiations would lead to a deal, adding that any further announcements would only be made if there was a development.
Hilton, which has a £1 billion turnover and, like Icelandic Seachill, is a major supplier to Tesco, posted a message on the London Stock Exchange saying: ‘Hilton Food Group plc notes the media speculation in relation to a potential acquisition and confirms that it is at an early stage of discussions in relation to such a transaction.
‘There can be no certainty at this time whether any agreement on such a transaction will be reached, and a further announcement will be made as and when appropriate.’
The company’s shares rose 3.5 per cent to 705p following the announcement.
Icelandic Seachill issued a similar statement, with a spokeswoman saying she had no official comment to make but would issue an update if there were any developments.
For years Tesco has been Icelandic Seachill’s main customer for fish. It is widely believed Britain’s biggest supermarket chain would always have a say in who should get this key Grimsby seafood processor.
The Hilton Food Group was established in 1994, to operate a beef and lamb central meat processing and packing facility for Tesco in Huntingdon, where it still has its head office.
Since then, the company has grown impressively, building two new factories in Ireland and additional processing facilities in the Netherlands and Denmark. It has also entered into joint venture agreements in Australia and Portugal.
Icelandic Seachill, which is also behind the successful Saucy Fish Co brand, plays a pivotal part in the Grimsby area’s economy simply by the scale of its operations and the large number of people it employs – some 750 regular staff and up to 400 agency workers.
Originally called Seachill, it was launched in the 1990s by a consortium of local seafood executives with the then sole purpose of supplying Tesco with fresh fish before being acquired by the Reykjavik based Icelandic group.
The company, which is ultimately owned by a pension fund in Iceland, has been gradually selling off its seafood processing business over the past two years.
Its Grimsby rival, Young’s, is believed to have shown an early interest in bidding for Icelandic Seachill, but later withdrew.
Former Grimsby Fish Merchants Association chief executive Steve Norton said: ‘Speaking now as an independent observer of the industry, I would say that if this report turns out to be correct then it could be a positive move for the town and the company.
‘Meat and seafood, especially salmon, are valuable proteins and both are farmed, although in different ways. I also see obvious synergies in product development.’