Sarson's vinegar is turning Japanese

Premier Foods is to sell its vinegar and sour pickles business to Japanese food giant Mizkan for £41m.

by Rebecca Burn-Callander
Last Updated: 19 Aug 2013
The lock, stock and barrel deal hands over chippie stalwart Sarson’s Vinegar, as well as the Dufrais speciality vinegar brand and Haywards pickles, along with all the brands’ production staff.  Although the factory at Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk, where some of the Haywards pickles are currently produced, is staying in Premier’s hands.

It’s a real coup for the Japanese firm, which now owns a 200-year-old slice of English heritage through Sarson’s (which is liberally sprinkled over nine in ten portions of chip-shop chips), giving the Asian giant an instant foothold in the slippery UK condiments market.

Mizkan's chief executive, Kazuhide Matazaemon Nakano VIII – now that’s a name – says, ‘We are excited to acquire two strong and iconic brands that have such a deep heritage in the UK. Sarson's and Haywards are beloved by consumers and we look forward to investing in the brands and adding to their legacy.’

Why did Premier sell Britain’s best-selling vinegar brand? It is to concentrate on its eight ‘power brands’ as part of a new stream-lining strategy. Hovis, Oxo, Sharwood’s and Mr Kipling, among others, are now the focus of the group.

Premier’s move from ‘all things to all men’ to eight-brand band was prompted by a financial close shave last year. The firm ran into a spot of bother after taking out large loans to buy up the Fray Bentos and Homepride businesses. And there was also the small matter of its vast pensions deficit. It was forced to renegotiate £1bn in bank debt and had to cut 600 jobs, and trim costs across the board.

Premier is now looking to make some extra cash to meet its repayment deadline in 2016. This means offloading Robertson's marmalade, Angel Delight and Bird's custard this year. And MT bets 100 yen that at least one of these follows Sarson’s, Hayward’s and now Chinese state-owned Weetabix to Asian shores…

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