London Briefing: Aga saga heats up as Whirlpool emerges as rival for Middleby

News of potential takeover battle sent shares surging by another 11 per cent

AGA is at the centre of a takeover tussle after revealing US electronic appliances giant Whirlpool was considering a bid to rival Middleby’s £129 million offer. Photograph: PA

The Aktiebolaget Gas Accumulator sounds like a piece of heavy factory machinery or a component of a grimy car engine. Shorten the name to Aga, however, and it conjures up romantic visions of thatched cottages in rural middle England, where the smell of freshly baked bread wafts through the kitchen as a kettle whistles away on the stove.

Although it was invented in Sweden, in the 1920s, by the Nobel prize-winning scientist Gustaf Dalen, the cast-iron Aga oven has become a quintessentially English brand since it was first manufactured in England more than 80 years ago.

It has given its name to a whole literary genre, the Aga saga, in which authors such as Joanna Trollope chronicle the romantic ups and downs of village life.

Now Aga is embroiled in its own saga, as two giant American industrial companies battle for control of the business, Aga Rangemaster.


Chorus of complaints

In July, the company said it had accepted a £129 million (about €175 million) takeover offer from the Illinois-based food services business


, sparking the usual chorus of complaints about another famous British name coming under foreign ownership.

Aga shareholders had been due to give their approval to the deal in the next few days but now Whirlpool, the world's biggest appliance manufacturer, has emerged as a potential rival.

The news sent Aga shares surging by another 11 per cent, to 204p, as the market welcomed the prospect of a takeover battle. In June, before Aga revealed the initial approach from Middleby, its shares were languishing at little more than 100p. The Middleby terms are 185p a share.

Whirlpool has not revealed the price it would be prepared to pay for Aga, but is taking a look at the company’s books. For now, Aga is sticking to its original advice that shareholders accept the recommended Middleby offer, but that would change if the rival buyer came up with a higher offer.

Based in Leamington Spa, in Warwickshire, Aga employs about 2,500 globally.

It owns the upmarket tiles and paint company Fired Earth and, in Ireland, the Waterford-based cooker manufacturer Waterford Stanley, which produced its first range cooker in Waterford in 1936 and was taken over by Aga in 2005.

Pension deficit

Those who prefer to see British companies stay under British ownership may bemoan the loss of another famous brand, but Aga is doing well to have not one, but two huge international companies chasing it.

The business has been going through a tough time of late and is struggling with a large pension deficit of more than £80 million.

It has been expanding its overseas customer base – Agas are particularly popular in France – and has also introduced a slimmer, cheaper version more suited to smaller kitchens in towns and cities. Its traditional cast-iron ranges can cost more than £10,000.

With the Middleby deal already agreed, there’s no doubt that Aga will come under overseas ownership, joining a lengthy list of famous British names, from Jaguar, Land Rover, Cadbury’s, Branston pickle, HP sauce and Fortnum & Mason to Harrods. It’s just a question of which American suitor will be prepared to pay more.

Fiona Walsh is business editor of