EPIC brews up Whittards MBO in a day

The European niche investor bought the stricken UK tea and coffee retailer for an undisclosed amount from Icelandic seller Baugur Group.

UK-based EPIC Private Equity has acquired distressed UK high street chain Whittard of Chelsea and specialist coffee retailer Boaters Coffee for an undisclosed sum.

Whittard announced early yesterday it was going into “pre-pack administration”, a function which allows companies to separate their assets from their liabilities, and had appointed Ernst & Young as administrators. A deal with EPIC had been agreed by the evening.

Although the acquisition sum has not been disclosed, EPIC normally invests between £1 million to £10 million in equity per deal.

The distressed Icelandic vendor, Baugur Group Hf, which has been heavily impacted by the ongoing financial crisis, had acquired Whittard in 2005 for £21.5 million, according to reports.

While the management will stay on board, a spokesperson for EPIC said it was too early to say what would happen to Whittard’s 950 employees. However, he said the chain’s 130 shops across the UK would remain open for business as usual.

Whittard was founded in 1886, since which time its name has become synonymous with the very British tradition of tea drinking. It has become the latest in a line of established British high street retailers – with Woolworths the prime example – to feel the pinch in this recession.

Turnaround, buyout and venture capital firm EPIC has around £50 million of invested capital. It has invested in 41 deals over the last six years and counts its 2006 acquisition of stricken UK high street retailer Past Times, which specialises in historically-themed jewellry and ornaments, amongst its previous deals.