3i sells Blueberry

Close Growth Capital (CGC), the equity and debt provider, has backed a £12m secondary buyout of the Blueberry Group, from 3i.

Blueberry is a UK supplier and distributor of speciality ambient food to the premium independent retail market, selling foods such as chutneys, soups, biscuits, sweets and cakes. Customers include Wyevale, Waitrose, John Lewis, Budgen and Booker as well as farm shops and independent retailers.

It was founded by serial entrepreneurs Stuart Robinson and Mike Thorne who, in January 2005, acquired Fosters Traditional Foods with backing from 3i. This was merged with Foodfinders – a branded product food supplier – Chambers Candy – packing company specialising in bespoke products and own brands into the corporate gifting and promotions market – and Sweetworld – a supplier of pick and mix sweets.

The Market Harborough-based business generated sales just under £20m in 2007, a 16% increase on 2006. It has 3500 customers across 17 customer categories.

Robinson and Thorne have a history of running food businesses backed by private equity money, and in this deal they are both rolling over their original investment following the secondary buyout, and will assume a greater role within the business. Thorne will assume the CEO position with Thorne as executive director.