Belfast Telegraph

Superquinn's new owners rule out an early move north

By Clare Weir

There are no immediate plans to open Superquinn stores in Northern Ireland after another retail group bought over the troubled business, protecting almost 3,000 jobs.

The supermarket group was placed under the control of receivers on Monday and is understood to have debts totalling around €400m (£351m).

Now Musgrave Group plc, which is headquartered in Cork, has reached an agreement with the joint receivers on terms to purchase the upmarket stores.

Superquinn will remain under the management of the receivers pending regulatory approval and the completion of the transaction.

The buy-out will need to be cleared by the Competition Commission in a process expected to last at least 10 weeks.

Musgrave helps support 14,000 jobs across 600 supplier companies and contributes €2.9bn (£2.5bn) to the Irish economy annually.

It operates 3,300 stores in Ireland, Britain and Spain.

In the Republic and Northern Ireland, it has partnerships with 550 Centra, 233 SuperValu and 156 Daybreak stores, plus 139 Mace stores trading in Northern Ireland alone.

In Britain, it owns 176 Budgens stores and 1,784 Londis shops.

The purchase will make Musgrave the largest grocery seller in the Republic, ahead of Tesco and Dunnes Stores for the first time, and will lift the firm's share of the Irish grocery market to as much as 29%.

A spokeswoman for Musgrave said that there are no firm plans yet to bring the Superquinn brand, which only operates in the Republic, north of the border.

She added: "The acquisition is subject to Competition Commission approval, which could take 10 weeks and once we have got past that stage we plan to run the businesses as normal, take time to understand the business and get to know the people.

"There are 24 stores in the Republic, 16 of those are in the Dublin area, where Musgrave traditionally has had a very light footprint so we plan to invest in those Dublin outlets."

Kieran Wallace and Eamonn Richardson, of accountancy firm KPMG, were appointed joint receivers and managers to the Superquinn Group earlier this week by Bank of Ireland, Allied Irish Banks and National Irish Bank.

Mr Richardson said the group had been operating in a tough trading environment and had been heavily indebted, primarily due to property-related loans.

Superquinn, founded by Feargal Quinn, an Irish senator, positioned itself at the higher end of the market. The Quinn family sold it to Select Retail Holdings Ltd, or SRH, a group of high profile Irish property developers, for a reported €450m (£395m) at the height of the property boom in 2005.