Administrators were working against the clock to save Harvestime’s Walsall bakery as British Baker went to press. A rescue deal is being prepared with the company’s management. This will allow Harvestime to keep trading for two weeks, while a sale is finalised. Australian investor Ian Allen, who bought Harvestime (2005) shortly before it went into administration, is not thought to be involved.
Last week we reported a sale of Harvestime was imminent, with the likely buyer bakery and desserts company Country Style Foods. But this deal now hangs in the balance, due to issues with the reassignment of the lease for the Walsall site. The lease runs until 2019, with an option to withdraw in 2016. The landlord can pull out during that period, as it was drawn up outside the Landlord and Tenant Act. This is a concern for a long-term investor as the landlocked Walsall site may have redevelopment potential in 10 years’ time, said administrator John Kelly of Begbies Traynor.
The potential buyer had requested the landlord update the lease in line with the Act, which gives tenants greater protection, to allow it stability, he said. But the rent is guaranteed until the end of May on the site, and so the landlord is under no pressure to move fast.
The landlord is former New Rathbones director John Lister, through his company Shiptinvest No. 1. This company went into administration in August, but was bought out by management six weeks ago. Mr Lister told British Baker: “The lease can be assigned to any potential new tenant. I am sure there are a number of issues that any buyer would want to take up. It is a matter for Begbies Traynor. I have no involvement whatsoever.” He suggested the site may not be a bakery by the time the lease expires in 15 years’ time.
Mr Lister also owns Nantwich-based bake-off company New Primebake. One industry source speculated: “If I owned a bake-off company, would I want a competitor, Country Style Foods, to expand?” However, Mr Lister commented: “I am not aware of what they make. It would not be a reason to stop the sale.”
Meanwhile, administrators are believed to be speaking to other potential bidders — including non–bakery companies. Mr Kelly said he could not vary the lease without Mr Listers consent. Administrators originally said they could only keep the Walsall site trading until January 6. But with 400 jobs at stake, those deadlines have been stretched.