Legal details delay Westland bid for century-old seed firm Unwins

last minute legal fine points delay signing of deal

The Unwins takeover saga may soon be over. Irish horticultural product supplier Westland Horticulture is close to buying the Cambridgeshire seed company. But last-minute legal fine points have prevented Westland managing director Edward Conroy and Unwins managing director Mark Taylor signing a multi-million pound deal. Conroy said talks were ongoing, no agreement has been signed and lawyers are sorting out details. Unwins staff are believed to have been told a deal is imminent; though negotiations have dragged on for months. A deal with market rivals Mr Fothergill’s foundered earlier this year after months of negotiation. Sources said Westland’s business infrastructure would help Unwins but the Irish company may be unlikely to invest in research and development of new products. Garden writer Peter Seabrook said: “It could be very useful to have a new set of ideas and a fresh approach put into the retail seed industry. “There are some obvious links between the seed compost and seed industries and there should be benefits in linking the two. “I’m worried that more and more staff will be haemorrhaged the longer the negotiations go on. The longer it takes the harder it will be for a new owner to carry on with research and development. “But the sale has been handled as badly as any I’ve seen in 40 years.” Westland sells products to the independent sector but may focus on selling core products to multiples through Unwins. But Unwins’ debt and the returns on sales this year may be of concern. Ipswich seed company Thompson & Morgan’s managing director Jonathan Cooper said: “We are a garden centre brand and I think this will help to reinforce what we do.”

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