Canadians Vie To Scoop UK Ice Cream-Maker

A trio of Canadian investors are battling to avoid being frozen out of the £700m auction of one of Britain's biggest privately-owned food companies.

R&R Ice Cream, which is headquartered in Yorkshire and has a UK workforce numbering more than 800 people, has become the subject of a bidding war that spans the Atlantic.

I understand that Onex Corp, Canada's largest private equity firm, and two of the country's biggest pension funds, are among the parties which tabled preliminary bids for R&R just before Christmas.

The Alberta Investment Management Corp (Aimco) and the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan are both in the running to buy R&R, which makes ice cream products such as Fab ice lollies, and own label goods for Asda and Tesco.

The company is currently controlled by Oaktree Capital, a US investment house which bought 82% of R&R in 2007. Even after growing it partly through a string of acquisitions, Oaktree is expected to make a healthy return on its initial investment.

Investment bankers at Barclays who are advising Oaktree are expected to narrow the field of bidders in the coming days.

R&R is the second-largest ice cream producer in the UK, behind Unilever, owner of the Wall's brand. It made about £50m in profit in 2011.

The Yorkshire-based company's management team, which is led by co-founder and executive chairman James Lambert, stands to reap a fortune from a successful sale. Executives' combined 18 per cent stake could be valued in the region of £130m.

Other bidders for R&R include buyout firms Apax Partners, Clayton Dubilier & Rice, and PAI Partners, which has hired Rothschild to advise it.

R&R was unavailable for comment.