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6 October 2017, 16:04
The poultry tycoon whose business has been hit by allegations of food safety breaches is in talks about a merger of Fox's Biscuits and the owner of rival brand Jammie Dodgers.
Sky News has learnt that Ranjit Boparan, one of Britain's most powerful food industry executives, is engineering a tie-up between Fox's and Burton's Foods, which also counts Wagon Wheels and Maryland among its brands.
A merger would form part of a complex series of corporate activity that would culminate in an accelerated initial public offering (IPO) of the enlarged biscuit business on the London Stock Exchange, according to City sources.
The market capitalisation of a merged Burton's and Fox's would be in the region of £400m, the sources added.
Clive Sharpe, a former boss of the snacks manufacturer Golden Wonder, has been lined up to become chief executive of the new company, while Cenkos, the investment bank, is leading efforts to float it on the London market.
A deal would create a more powerful number two in the UK sweet biscuits category, which is struggling to demonstrate better-than-anaemic growth figures.
Together, Burton's and Fox's would have a 20% market share, according to analysts.
Turkish-owned United Biscuits, which makes brands such as Jaffa Cakes and McVitie's, is the clear leader in the British market.
Discussions between the shareholders in Burton's and Fox's are said to have been under way for months, pre-dating the emergence in recent days of apparent regulatory breaches at a chicken processing plant owned by Mr Boparan's 2Sisters Food Group.
Burton's has been owned by the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan - the owner of National Lottery operator Camelot Group - since 2013.
A combination of the two biscuit companies would come at a time when increases in commodity prices are prompting food producers to explore consolidation - a factor involved in the demise of Pink Panther wafer-maker Rivington Biscuits late last year.
Burton's and Fox's have explored a merger on several previous occasions, most recently in 2016, but issues including the destiny of Burton's licence to make Cadbury-branded biscuits and their respective pension deficits proved to be obstacles.
in January, Boparan Holdings, the vehicle which owns Fox's, said it had been approached about a takeover of Fox's, but the party involved was understood to be a consortium of bond funds rather than Burton's or another food manufacturer.
Based in Hertfordshire, Burton's traces its roots back to the mid-1800s, when it was founded by George Burton.
According to accounts filed at Companies House for 2016, the sale of Burton's Cadbury licence to Mondelez International generated a one-off gain of almost £200m.
Burton's, which now makes Mars-branded products, employs about 2,000 people around the UK at a number of distribution and manufacturing facilities.
Burton's also produces the Fish 'n' Chips snacks brand and bakes Cathedral City biscuits under licence.
"The company operates mainly in the UK biscuit market, which is valued at approximately £2.8bn, and is forecast to remain broadly stable in the long term," the accounts said.
Fox's is almost exactly the same age as its prospective merger partner, having been founded in 1853.
Spokesman for 2Sisters and OTPP declined to comment on Friday.
(c) Sky News 2017: Biscuit giants Burton's and Fox's in crunch merger and IPO talks