While Castel has brushed off rumours that Threshers is looking to buy up its rival, Oddbins, Threshers itself has not denied a meeting took place.
Recent press reports have suggested that Vision Capital, the private equity firm which owns Threshers, approached Castel Freres, Oddbin’s owner and one of France’s largest wine producers, to discuss a possible purchase and merger.
‘I know nothing about it, I cannot comment on it,’ said Anne Burchett, Castel’s UK managing director.
Threshers called the original report ‘speculative’ but tacitly confirmed a meeting had taken place with Castel.
It said in a statement: ‘It is entirely normal for Vision Capital to meet from time to time with parties interested in its various portfolio companies, including Thresher Group.’
Oddbins, which was bought by Castel in January 2002 for £57m, showed a pre-tax loss of £8.6m as of 31 December 2006.
Castel, which also owns the more profitable Nicolas chain of wine shops, has recently denied speculation that it is looking to sell Oddbins for a possible fraction of the price it paid, saying it was ‘without basis’.
Over the last year or two, up to 20 prime Oddbins shops have been converted into Nicolas shops, with about 200 sites remaining unconverted.
Castel has said this is because Nicolas shops are more profitable. Industry speculation goes further, however, suggesting recent conversions from Oddbins to Nicolas outlets have been in preperation for the sale of the remaining Oddbins sites.
Written by Sophie Kevany and Jane Anson