Ed’s view: Buyout bonanza

CN editor pic 2020 landscape

The turn of the year has seen some spectacular mergers and acquisitions in the UK catering equipment sector. So many sealed deals simultaneously is likely an effort to simplify financial reporting, with a lot of firms’ financial years finishing at the same time as a calendar year.

Nevertheless, it made for a blockbuster start to 2020, and the buyout that caught most people’s eye was Airedale Group’s purchase of refrigeration and air conditioning maintenance specialist, Flowrite. This has created what is claimed to be the largest specialist maintenance platform operating in the UK hospitality sector today – that’s over 200 technicians. Other servicing giants of the industry will likely take notice of this move, as with engineers in such short supply, whenever any major player bolsters its resources like this, you can bet they will be aiming to offer a compelling employment package.

Then in the distributor sector, we saw SMEs Millers Catering Equipment and Equipt to Cook join forces, creating a definitively mid-size firm. While the directors are stating it is business as usual at both dealerships, they did note that there would be synergies and efficiencies created by the merger. Catering Insight will get the lowdown on what this means for the future when we have an in-depth chat with Millers’ management next month, so make sure you keep an eye out for that piece.

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Also joining the financial fray was internet dealer eCatering, with parent company RG Distributors being bought by investor, Headway Point. The management firm’s founder has an ambitious target to take the combined companies’ turnover into double figures within the next 5 years.

All of these deals are aimed at ensuring these firms remain competitive and guard against the risk of going out of business, as with continuing uncertain market headwinds, this is a fate that continues to befall well-known dealers. The latest looks to be light equipment specialist, Global Foodservice Equipment. The Reading firm has initiated the liquidation process, with more details likely to appear following official confirmation in the next few weeks.

UK plc will continue to suffer from uncertainty in the months to come though, as while Brexit was officially rubber-stamped on 31 January, in actuality we have just copied and pasted all EU regulations while the trade deal is being thrashed out. Most experts have opined that the current deadline to finalise that by the end of this year is unworkable, at which point we are likely to either be pitched into a ‘no-deal’ scenario or have to extend the negotiating schedule again. Brexit is definitely not done yet – so let’s hope our industry’s consolidation will inure it against any blowback resulting from the continuing merry-go-round.

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Clare Nicholls

The author Clare Nicholls

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