Noble/Manton’s egg processing merger on hold

Noble Egg Innovations – the egg processing company formed by Noble Foods – has been told to stop any further integration with the Manton’s processing business, pending a possible investigation by the competition authorities.

The purchase of Manton’s by Noble was completed on 14 March. The plan was to shift liquid egg production from Noble’s Bilsthorpe site to Manton’s Harrogate and Gainsborough processing sites.

But the Competition and Markets Authority (which replaced the Competition Commission on 1 April), has imposed an interim enforcement order to prevent any further integration.

“The CMA is considering whether the [merger] situation has resulted, or may be expected to result in, a substantial lessening of competition in any market or markets in the UK,” said the order.

While the enforcement order is in place, the two businesses should carry on their activities separately “on the basis of their respective pre-merger business plans”.

According to a CMA spokesman, the restriction will run for 40 days, at the end of which the authority will decide whether to launch a full investigation or give the takeover the all-clear. The clock had not yet started ticking on those 40 days, he added, as the CMA was awaiting further information from both parties.

It is understood the takeover was picked up by the CMA’s own Mergers Intelligence Team, rather than from an external tip-off or a voluntary submission.

The spokesman also pointed to the previous investigation of Noble Foods following its formation in 2006, which resulted in it having to sell off the Stonegate egg packing business.