British pasta start-up is evangelist about £40m Italian takeover

13 January 2021, 09:29 | Updated: 13 January 2021, 11:53

Some might judge it as being akin to selling ice to the Eskimos, or flowers to the Dutch: A British-based pasta delivery start-up which counts Great British Bake-Off judge Prue Leith among its shareholders is being sold to a giant of Italy’s food industry.

Sky News has learnt that Pasta Evangelists has agreed a deal worth roughly £40m to be taken over by Barilla Group, a 133-year-old pasta and bakery enterprise.

Insiders said the deal would be announced on Thursday.

The transaction will represent a triumph for British entrepreneurship, and crystallise a handsome payday for the company's founders, including former banker Alessandro Savelli.

Food delivery businesses have thrived during the pandemic, with takeaway and meal-kit assembly start-ups both seeing record sales amid soaring demand from locked-down consumers.

Institutional investors in Pasta Evangelists including Guinness Asset Management and Pembroke VCT are expected to sell their shareholdings as part of the deal, while the current management team may retain part of their stakes under Barilla's ownership.

Pasta Evangelists was set up little more than five years ago, and has built a loyal following of customers who receive various forms of pasta and sauces through their letterboxes on a subscription basis.

The company's shareholders also include Giles Coren, The Times' restaurant critic, and William Sitwell, who now writes for The Daily Telegraph following a controversy sparked by remarks he made about vegans while editing Waitrose's food magazine.

James McArthur, a former boss of Harrods, is Pasta Evangelists' chairman.

Based in London, it has raised several private rounds of funding since launch, including a £3.5m injection early last year.

Barilla's swoop on the British start-up reflects a growing trend for multinationals to scour the globe for innovative start-ups to acquire.

Mindful Chef, a not dissimilar business to Pasta Evangelists, was sold to Nestle late last year for a similar sum.

The Italian group was founded in 1877 by Pietro Barilla, when he opened a bread and pasta shop in Parma.

It was then run by his sons Riccardo and Gualtiero, and in the 1950s and 1960s by Riccardo's sons Gianni and Pietro.

In the 1970s Barilla became part of the WR Grace Group, before returning to the Barilla family's hands in 1979.

Barilla owns famous pasta producing brands such as Voiello and Academia Barilla, as well as bakery goods such as Pavesi, a range of dry snacks; Gran Cereale, a healthy snack label; and Pan Stelle, which produces biscuits and chocolate snacks.

Pasta Evangelists did not respond to a request for comment.