Talks between Dunnes Stores and the high-end supermarket chain Donnybrook Fair over a possible takeover deal have ended without agreement, according to multiple sources.
The apparent breakdown in discussions at the eleventh hour has left the door ajar for one of Dunnes’s major rivals to steal in ahead of it and potentially complete a buyout, sources suggested.
Donnybrook Fair operates six stores in Dublin and Wicklow, including outlets in upmarket areas such as Donnybrook, Malahide, Stillorgan and Greystones. It is owned by husband and wife team, Joe Doyle and Mary Doyle, who each control 50 per cent of the business.
It is understood that talks between Dunnes and the Doyles about a takeover of their business took place over much of the summer, and reached an advanced stage. Negotiations on the Dunnes side are understood to have been led by Anne Heffernan, daughter of the group's chief executive, Margaret Heffernan.
The discussions are understood to have recently ended, however, after a price could not be agreed.
A takeover of Donnybrook Fair by Dunnes would have been seen within the industry as a natural progression for Ireland’s largest indigenous retailer, which in recent years has nudged its offering upmarket, especially in the food sector.
Dunnes attempted to buy the upscale Avoca Handweavers group three years ago, but lost out on that occasion to multinational catering operator, Aramark.
Sources suggested that, after losing out on Avoca, Dunnes made contact with Donnybrook Fair and expressed an interest should the Doyles ever want to sell. Earlier this year, talks began with a view to completing a deal.
The apparent breakdown in discussions has alerted a number of other retailing groups that have an interest in buying the chain. Donnybrook Fair would be attractive to a number of the major symbol retailing groups, and potentially also to some of the larger forecourt retailers.
Musgrave, the owner of SuperValu, would be considered within the industry to be an obvious potential purchaser of the chain. Chris Martin, its chief executive, said earlier this year it is interested in expanding its footprint in the capital.
When asked if it is interested in acquiring Donnybrook Fair, Musgrave responded that it “does not comment on speculation”.
Donnybrook Fair has annual sales of more than €27 million. It returned to profitability in the year to the end of January 2017, while its sales rose by more than 15 per cent. The group made a profit for the year of €185,000, compared to a loss for the previous 12 months of €390,000.
If the Doyles do complete a deal to sell the business, the buyer will take on bank and long-term debts of about €10 million, its accounts suggest.
The group employs about 240 people, and is eyeing further expansion with a €500,000 refurbishment of its flagship store in Dublin 4. The group also runs a cookery school onsite. It also owns a stake in artisan producer, Morehampton Foods.
The Doyles recently established a new holding company, Fountain Hill Investments, to sit at the apex of the Donnybrook Fair structure. Recent filings suggest that shares worth about €11.5 million were issued by this entity to the Doyles as consideration for their stake in the retail business.
Joe Doyle made no response to repeated efforts to contact him on his mobile phone over recent days. Dunnes Stores also did not comment.