Pride Valley Foods sold

Entrepreneur Hossain Rezaei has sold County Durham flat-breads producer Pride Valley Foods in a £20m deal to one of the world's biggest food conglomerates.

Entrepreneur Hossain Rezaei has sold County Durham flat-breads producer Pride Valley Foods in a £20m deal to one of the world's biggest food conglomerates.

The company, understood to be the biggest specialist manufacturer of tortillas, pitta bread, chapatti, and naan in Europe, has been sold to North American food giant Gruma SA.

Mr Rezaei, who owned 85% of the company, which he painstakingly resurrected after fire gutted its main factory in 1995, plunging more than 200 jobs into doubt, said the sale would link the £24m turnover company to a fresh drive by Gruma into Europe.

He said: "You need to be unselfish and ask what is right for the business. What was right was to find an international buyer with a lot more clout, muscle and diversification, to get the concept across the world."

Fellow directors and shareholders - Roger McKechnie, founder of Derwent Valley Foods, maker of Phileas Fogg branded snacks, and North Yorkshire businessman Michael Hughes - have also sold to Gruma.

It has been a long road back to recovery by Pride Valley Foods and Mr Rezaei since its 75,000 sq ft factory at Seaham, County Durham, was razed to the ground by fire in 1995, a week after a new 50,000sq ft extension was commissioned.

Insurers refused to pay out on the £12m claim by Pride Valley Foods, and Mr Rezaei unsuccessfully handed over day-to-day management to two separate sets of management while pursuing the claim to the House of Lords in a seven-and-a-half year legal battle.

He wrested back control of the company in 2001 and bought out the 22% stake owned by his venture capitalist backers, quickly exceeding the £10m turnover chalked up at the time of the fire.

Mr Rezaei said Gruma, one of the world's biggest tortilla and corn flour producers with 17,000 employees in 50 countries, wanted to extend its reach into the UK and Europe, which it currently services from a small factory in Leicestershire.

The Iranian-born entrepreneur, which built Pride Valley Foods into one of the biggest employers in Seaham, with more than 300 staff, broke into a dozen European markets as a means of sustaining the company in the wake of the factory blaze.

Cashed up, Mr Rezaei, 52, said he now wanted to back "three or four businesses, possibly five or six". The first of these was a chain of "slow food outlets", to be initially rolled out in the North of England, with the aim of opening half a dozen in the first two years.

Mr Rezaei said: "The big vision that we are trying to represent now is looking at all the non-represented cuisines and put them into a chain which is as aggressive as the Western chains."

A second venture would involve a "dotcom concept, creating a brand new lifestyle, using technologies to deal with getting people from where they are to the peak of their performance."

The first of the food outlets will be opened in Newcastle City Centre before the end of the summer. Mr Rezaei will team up for the launch with local entrepreneur Justin Perkins and nutritionist Simon Hartley.

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