Chicken giant's last minute offer tempts Northern

Chicken magnate Ranjit Singh Boparan has made an 11th hour £341m cash bid for rival Northern Foods – after he was given a ‘put up or shut up’ deadline by the Takeover Panel.

Boparan Holdings, the company behind the 2 Sisters Food Group, is believed to have tabled the bid just minutes before a 7pm deadline – which had already been extended from 5pm following a hold-up with the financing package.

The bid values Northern Foods, the pizza and biscuit producer, at 73p a share.

The entrepreneur and his advisers from Rothschild are believed to have come to an agreement with Northern’s pension trustees – after the liabilities of the group were seen as a stumbling block. Northern Foods, whose main business is in supplying ready meals to supermarkets such as Marks & Spencer, is facing an annual pensions shortfall of about £25m a year.

Boparan hopes to put the skids under a proposed all-share merger with Greencore that was tabled last November and valued the company at the price of 50p a share.

Greencore will now be expected to sweeten the terms of its own £236m merger in order to convince Northern’s board to stick with the original plan. The Irish company has already made it clear that it regards the merger’s £40m synergy targets as conservative, while it could also be expected to inject cash into the deal in order to appeal to shareholders.

The bulk of Boparan’s private 2 Sisters business is supplying products to supermarkets. Its main customers are Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Marks & Spencer. It also supplies Lidl, Aldi, Morrisons and Budgens, as well as Kentucky Fried Chicken, and owns the Buxted poultry brand. Boparan bought the Harry Ramsden’s fish-and-chip chain a year ago and has built up a 6.6% stake in Northern Foods.