Whitworths makes Gresham six

UK mid-market firm Gresham Private Equity has sold Whitworths, the own brand food supplier, to buyout house European Capital for approximately €110m.

The deal generated a 6x return for Gresham which backed a €22m MBO in April 2001. New owners European Capital has provided senior and subordinated debt as well as equity as part of its One Stop Buyout product. The firm has also installed a new chief executive in the shape of Will Carter, replacing David Pratt.

Pratt, along with finance director Gary Vicary led the buyout from Murray Johnstone, the private equity arm of Aberdeen Asset Management. At the time it was in a position of receivership but has since gone on to become the UK’s leading brand supplier of dried fruits, nuts and seeds in the culinary ingredients and snacking sector, employing over 300 people.

The past five years has seen Whitworths make three disposals as well as one acquisition, that of Sundora, a rival, in 2005. The business has seen its turnover double since 2004, a result of the healthy-eating boom.

Alex Morey, a European Capital director, said: “Whitworths’ leading position affords it tremendous growth opportunities in a market driven by the ongoing shift of consumer behaviour toward healthier food products, especially snacks. Whitworths is well placed to enhance growth and value significantly through the introduction of additional branded healthy snacking products.”

Speaking about the sales, James Barbour-Smith, director at Gresham, said: “This investment has never been straightforward as to buy a business from the receiver, then add in a major acquisition and make three disposals is very challenging. The management team proved to have great strength in depth to steer a course through these actions and at the same time deliver very strong organic growth. It typifies what Gresham is looking for in a business – great management teams with a clear vision for growth.”