RICE KING’S SHARWOODS BID GOES OFF THE BOIL

THE RETAIL industry has been on tenterhooks over the last month to see whether rice tycoon Moni Varma, the chairman of Veetee Food Group, would succeed in expanding his processed foods empire by buying Sharwoods from Premier Foods.

However, The Capitalist can reveal that Varma’s audacious bid for the sauces manufacturer is no longer likely to go ahead, after Premier Foods decided the brand was just too valuable to sell. “Sharwoods has definitely gone off the boil,” Varma told The Capitalist. “[The bid] is not at the forefront at the moment.”

But while Sharwoods is off the shopping list, Varma still has a £50m expansion pot to dispose of. Carbohydrates have been “perfected”; now he wants to snap up makers of “sauces, lentils, proteins” – anything to provide “a complete meal solution”.

Varma refused to name the companies Veetee Group is looking at – “it is rather sensitive at the moment” – but confirmed that he has put an extra £10m into his rice cooking facilities in Kent and £2.5m into new bagging and packaging lines.

With a move into ready-cooked pasta set for November, it is full steam ahead for Veetee Group – the only cloud is Varma’s ongoing legal battle with ArcelorMittal steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal, after the former friends fell out over a Nigerian oil deal.

“I am saddened I didn’t get enough recognition and there is an amount of money outstanding, but once Lakshmi gets his head around [the situation], I am hopeful we can settle before we get to court,” commented Varma on the “business matter”. “There is no personal war,” he added. “I see no reason why this should drag on until it gets to court.”

CIVIL AVIATION
WHERE now for Andrew Davis, the fallen hotels tycoon, as he surveys the wreckage of his Von Essen country house empire?

Gone are the jewels in his portfolio – Amberley Castle in Chichester, Sharrow Bay in Cumbria and the iconic Cliveden in Berkshire – after creditors Barclays and Lloyds sent in administrator Ernst & Young to recoup at least part of the group’s £250m debt.

A salutary tale on the man who made last year’s Sunday Times Rich List and counts Michael Winner as a personal friend.

Davis (pictured right with Shirley Bassey) isn’t completely finished though. The Capitalist hears the assets Ernst & Young hasn’t got its paws on include the Hotel Verta in Battersea, the adjoining London Heliport, and Davis’s hangar at London Biggin Hill Airport, where he services and maintains his large fleet of helicopters…

OLYMPIC CHALLENGE
THE YEAR ahead promises to be a busy one for Truett Tate, who has been appointed as vice chairman, client coverage, at Lloyds Banking Group.

Tate (above) will combine client calling with leading the bank’s corporate social responsibility agenda – which means he will attend IMF meetings and become the go-to lead for the Olympics next year, while continuing his involvement with the African finance charity Opportunity International and with Business in the Community.

Tate has been negotiating the new role with chief executive António Horta-Osório for some time, making good use of his fluent Portuguese. “When most people gear down in August, I’ll be gearing up,” he said.