Cider firm confirms Lazard involvement – but sale is not a given says Aston Manor boss

Aston Manor has confirmed that it has appointed investment bank Lazard to advise on the future direction of the business.

But it said that a sell-off of the firm, controlled by former Aston Villa FC chairman Doug Ellis, was not a foregone conclusion, as suggested by some weekend press reports.

Managing director Gordon Johncox, former boss of the British arm of Magners, said: “As we look to future challenges and opportunities we are considering what options exist to bring additional investment into the business – and Lazard has been appointed to help us in this work.”

He said a number of options would be considered and “there is no certainty that any action will result”.

Speculation suggested that Ellis, 93, would activate a sale process in the autumn for Aston Manor, whose biggest brand is Frosty Jack’s.

“It is true to say that we are focused on how we can continue to grow the business,” added Johncox.

“Our progress in recent years has, in part, been as a result of the considerable investment we have made. It is also as a result of the hard work of the teams at Aston Manor.

“We will keep our people [and] customers appropriately informed as this exploratory work is done. We will not encourage speculation as it is not helpful to the work we do.

“Meanwhile, it is business as usual, so that we can continue to produce great ciders for all of our customers.”

The latest Aston Manor results filed at Companies House show that operating profit fell from £7.5 million to £5.8 million in 2015 on turnover that dropped from £123 million to £109 million.

The directors’ report for the period said they were “satisfied” with the company’s performance in a declining cider market.

It exports to over 20 countries including the US, Russia and parts of Africa, but £106 million of its turnover came from UK sales.

Aston Manor has production sites in Birmingham, Tiverton in Devon and Stourport-on-Severn in Worcestershire, a national distribution centre in Birmingham and orchards in Herefordshire and Worcestershire.

At of the end of 2105 it employed 288 people.

IRI figures for the year to February 25 show Aston Manor outperforming the off-trade cider category with growth of 0.8% against a market rise of 0.2%, giving it 13% market share, second only to Heineken.

Though the value brand Frosty Jack’s provides its biggest volumes, it has given most marketing support in recent years to the mainstream Kingstone Press brand. It has also launched Friels into the growing premium segment and is a significant supplier of supermarket own-label.

Aston Manor was founded in 1983, soon after Ellis started his second spell as Aston Villa chairman. He achieved a level of notoriety in that role, earning the nickname Deadly Doug for his propensity to sack under-performing managers, at a time when such actions weren’t as readily taken as they are in modern football.

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