Belfast Telegraph

Noble Foods considering options including flotation or partial sale

The group behind the Happy Egg Company and Gu desserts is weighing up a stock market flotation or partial sale that could value the firm at over £400 million.

The chief executive of Noble Foods, Britain's biggest egg supplier, told the Press Association the firm's owners are considering a range of options, with an initial public offering (IPO) the most likely.

"Noble's owners Peter Dean and Michael Kent are considering reducing their 50/50 shareholding at some point, one option is an IPO, the other is a partial sale. A flotation is the preferred route, although nothing is imminent and we're under no pressure to do anything. We could just decide to carry on trading," Dale Burnett said.

Noble turned over around £530 million last year, banking approximate operating profit of just under £50 million.

An IPO, which could happen in 2018, would see Mr Dean and Mr Kent retain significant holdings in the firm and any partial stake sale would most likely be to private equity investors.

Last year the firm appointed City grandee John Gildersleeve as chairman as a signal of intent and to "guide the company through potential changes", Mr Burnett said.

Noble acquired Gu in 2010 and the chief executive said the firm is hungry for more deals as he looks to ramp up the company's brand profile, which includes Big & Fresh eggs.

"We are looking at acquiring other branded businesses like Gu so we can continue to grow. And we're back on TV for the first time in two years, I really want to raise the brand awareness of Happy Egg and Big & Fresh."

Noble will also pump £25 million into opening a new Gu factory in Bishop's Stortford this year, creating 170 jobs in the process.

However, Mr Burnett struck a cautious note on Brexit and the predicament of EU workers residing in Britain.

"We rely heavily on the free movement of people, our factories are heavily supported by European and non-UK staff.

"Everybody is concerned and nervous, and we are already seeing some people return to the countries they came from as a result of Brexit," he said.