Another tasty food deal for Valeo

Cantillon: After purchase of Kettle crisps, will Valeo Foods itself become focus of an offer?

The announcement that Valeo Foods has agreed a €73 million deal to buy the European operation of Kettle crisps from Campbell Soup puts Valeo on the verge of an important psychological threshold – €1 billion in annual sales.

It will be the uber-acquisitive Valeo’s 12th buyout in years, as it has assembled a pan-European snacks and ambient foods group of significant scale. It is also nine years since Valeo was created in a private equity-driven deal to combine Batchelors with Origin Foods.

A decade is virtually a lifetime in private equity ownership terms. With the €1 billion barrier now about to be breached, could the time come soon for Valeo's backers, led by Irish dealmaker Seamus Fitzpatrick, to check out?

The Cavan man is as media-shy as they come in the world of finance. He is not well-known outside of financial and business media circles, but he is easily one of the most significant Irish operators on the London scene.

Management buyouts

He moved to London about 30 years ago at the outset of his career. As the founder of Capvest in 1999, he quickly built a reputation as a backer of management buyouts – past Irish investments have included the Mater Private Hospital.

In 2010, as the Irish economy burned, Fitzpatrick rode into the middle of the strife on his old turf to buy Origin Foods and Batchelors, combining the two as Valeo. Less than six months later, he folded in the Jacob Fruitfield group.

Ten acquisitions later, it has operations across Ireland, the UK and much of continental Europe.

So often the buyer, Valeo could also turn into an attractive proposition for larger food groups looking to boost their scale across Europe. Expect Belturbet man Fitzpatrick to drive a hard bargain if any suitors emerge.