Waitrose in talks for EAT

EAT, the sandwich chain favoured by City workers, could be sold within the next month to the upmarket supermarket giant Waitrose, City sources suggested yesterday.

EAT was founded in 1996 by Niall and Faith MacArthur and now has over 30 branches in the City selling sandwiches, soups, pies and drinks. The husband and wife team co-own the company with private equity group Penta Capital.

It is understood the MacArthurs have a 45 per cent share and that EAT carries a price tag of about £100m.

Waitrose, headed by Mark Price, declined to comment but it is thought to be planning to open EAT cafes inside its supermarkets. It has undertaken an ambitious expansion programme that aims to double sales to £10bn by 2020 and increase market share from 4 per cent to 8 per cent. It has already agreed to sell its food in 700 Boots outlets and is trialling a partnership with Shell petrol stations.

Waitrose has lifted its market share to an all-time record high of 4.3 per cent this year. It has said it wants to increase its stake in the convenience store market.

EAT first tried to sell in 2008 but failed due to the credit crunch. In that same year rival Pret a Manger was sold to Bridgepoint for £350m.

Its full year results in 2009, saw the group report an 11 per cent increase in turnover to £75.5m, thanks to store openings. But pre-tax profits fell nearly a third to £2.7m as a result of weaker margins and significant one-off costs related to streamlining.