Ipswich: Thompson & Morgan investor Primary Capital silent on sale talk

THE owners of Suffolk-based seeds and plants specialist Thompson & Morgan have declined to comment on speculation that a majority stake in the business could be up for sale.

London-based investment company Primary Capital owns a 52% stake in Thompson & Morgan, having provided �17million in funding to support a management buy-out of the business from International Garden Products Inc in May 2002.

According reports in the national and trade press, Primary Capital has hired advisers from Catalyst Corporate Finance to assess potential interest in Thompson & Morgan, which it is suggested could now be worth around �25m following rapid growth in recent years.

Three private equity groups, Bridgepoint Development Capital, GCP Capital Partners and NBGI Private Equity, are said to be in the running to buy Thompson & Morgan, which is based in Ipswich.

But neither the management of the company, who between them own the other 48% of the business, nor Primary Capital was yesterday willing to respond in any detail to the reports.

In a brief statement, Thompson & Morgan said: “The company has no detailed comments other than to say that when a business has been owned by a private equity investor for nine years, this kind of thing is par for the course.”

Primary Capital said that the lead partner for its investment in Thompson & Morgan was away and unavailable for comment.

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Thompson & Morgan published its first seed catalogue in 1855 and today supplies more than 8,000 varieties to customers in more than 140 countries, including mail order and online businesses.

In 1995, it also began to supply young plants, from a centre in Guernsey.

According to the latest Buyout Track 100 report from business analyst and listings specialist Fast Track, Thompson & Morgan’s profits have risen by an average of 56% annually in recent years, from �1.6m in 2008 to �3.9m in 2010.

Other investments in Primary Capital’s portfolio include Tobar Group, the company behind the Hawkin’s Bazaar chain of toy, novelty and gift shops, which is based at Worlingham, near Beccles.

Primary Capital also holds stakes in businesses including Amber Travel, owner of the Great Rail Journeys brand, stationery retail chain Paperchase and bars operator Blackwater.