Greencore seeks 11th-hour delay of Northern meeting

GREENCORE is understood to be seeking a last minute adjournment of today's Northern Foods shareholder meeting.

The meeting was originally set up for Northern's shareholders to vote on the merger between Irish food group Greencore and Leeds-based ready meals maker Northern.

But that was before chicken magnate Ranjit Boparan stepped in with a recommended 342m cash offer for Northern earlier this month.

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The meeting is scheduled to take place at 11am at the Thorpe Park Hotel in Leeds, An adjournment, which would need agreement from the UK Takeover Panel, would give Greencore time to return with a counter offer.

Whatever happens to the meeting, Mr Boparan's bid, which has been recommended by Northern's board offer, is unaffected. He can now write to shareholders offering the terms of the 342m cash deal.

Greencore will have 46 days after Mr Boparan's offer documents are posted to make a counter-offer.

Northern's board is understood to be keen to press ahead with today's meeting and ensure that its recommendation of Mr Boparan's cash offer can be debated by shareholders.

Last week Mr Boparan increased his stake in Northern to 11.4 per cent.

Mr Boparan, who owns the Harry Ramsden's fish and chip shop chain, bought 22.4m shares in Northern for 16.3m on Monday, underlining his financial firepower.

The poultry magnate, who is Tesco's biggest chicken supplier, increased his stake from 6.6 per cent with the share purchase.

He is offering Northern's shareholders 73p per share for the maker of Goodfella's pizza and Fox's biscuits.

He plans to combine it with his 2 Sisters Food Group to create a 2bn turnover privately-owned food conglomerate with significant exposure to the UK's supermarkets.

Mr Boparan's last-minute offer on January 21 won the backing of Northern's board, scuppering the firm's previously agreed all-share merger with Ireland's Greencore, which aimed to create a new food group, Essenta Foods.

Greencore is thought to be mulling a cash sweetener and talking to shareholders.

Greencore has reiterated its commitment to the Essenta deal, which it insists offers greater scale and firepower, plus at least 40m of cost savings. Analysts at Evolution Securities said any rival bid from Greencore will require substantial funds, and cast doubt over the Irish firm's ability to buy Northern.

"The company would likely need to undertake a substantial equity fundraising to finance a rival all-cash bid," said analysts at the stockbrokers.

Northern's shares closed unchanged at 74.5p on Friday evening.