Price fears force pudding disposal

Christmas puddingThe humble Christmas pudding has been the unlikely sticking point of a major deal amid fears a proposed takeover could force up the price of the festive staple.

Boparan Holdings will be the owner of Christmas pudding firms Matthew Walker and Avana Bakeries - which combined sell £40 million worth of puddings each year - if a deal with food manufacturer Premier Foods is completed.
Privately-owned Boparan, which owns brands including Fox's biscuits and Goodfella's pizza, has offered to sell one of the businesses to appease the consumer watchdog, the Office of Fair Trading (OFT).

Amelia Fletcher, OFT chief economist and decision maker in this case, said: "We are concerned that this loss of competition could ultimately lead to price rises for consumers at a time of year which is already very costly for families."

Boparan, which acquired Matthew Walker in its takeover of Northern Foods, wants to buy Avana Bakeries from Premier Foods in a £30 million deal, which also includes chilled goods business RF Brookes.

Matthew Walker, founded in 1899 in Derby, sells its products through Spar, Budgens and Amazon among other retailers, while Avana Bakeries sells to the UK's leading supermarkets.

The OFT said while it found no competition concerns in relation to the chilled foods business, it concluded the deal would give rise to concerns over Christmas puddings.

Boparan, which also owns supermarket chicken supplier 2 Sisters and fish and chips restaurant Harry Ramsden's, has offered to sell one of the two businesses.

Ms Fletcher added: "The OFT is now considering the remedy offered by the parties to remove these competition concerns."
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