Unwins sold to private investment group

The UK-based off-licence retailer has agreed to a takeover by DM Private Equity, a consortium of private investors with links to Australian wine producer Palandri.

Unwins, the off-licence chain with 387 outlets in the south of England, has been acquired from the Wetz family by DM Private Equity, a small group of private investors. The consideration for the deal was not disclosed, but various reports have indicated a price of around £32 million (€46 million; $61 million).

DM Private Equity, which owns stakes in a number of private and public companies, has a five percent interest in Palandri, the Western Australian wine producer that gained a listing on London’s Alternative Investment Market last year.

DM’s chairman, Australian wine consultant Phillip Cook, is a director of Palandri Wine Promotions, a company with links to Palandri. Philip Wetz, a former managing director of Unwins and member of the family that has owned the firm since 1921, is a non-executive director of Palandri.

A report in Perth’s Sunday Times concluded that the rationale for the deal was to expand Palandri’s market share in the UK, although Palandri chief executive Darrel Jarvis said the company was “not privy to the details” of the deal and not directly involved in the negotiations.

DM Private Equity beat off competition to acquire Unwins from Castel, the French wine business that owns the Oddbins and Nicolas off-licence chains. Castel is understood to have baulked at the price tag and distracted by the prospect of a larger deal in Eastern Europe.

Unwins reported turnover of £179 million in the year to February 2004, down from £197 million the previous year. According to industry analysts, off-licences have come under increasing pressure in recent years as consumers turn to the major supermarket chains for their alcohol purchases.

DM received debt financing for the transaction from Bank of Scotland, and persuaded all 84 Wetz family shareholders to accept its cash offer last Friday.