Not since Kraft bought Cadbury has such a significant consumer brand been snapped up by an American predator, and we all remember what happened then. Kraft quickly reneged on a promise not to shut a key Cadbury factory, triggering new rules preventing false troths made in corporate courtships.
The stakes this time are just as high, if not higher. Morrisons is not simply a much-loved supplier to Tory red wall and “levelling up” regions of the UK. It’s one of Britain’s most significant owners of farms and other food suppliers.
Meanwhile, suspicion against US private equity buyouts is at a high, sparked by the dizzying number of deals this year.
Fortress’s bid team are acutely aware of such tensions.
That’s why they framed the PR of their bid around care for Mozzers’ customers, farmers and financial stability.
Asset strippers? Barbarians at the gate? Not us, they cry.
CD&R and Apollo, plotting their next moves, are impressed. “They’ve played a blinder,” one’s adviser begrudgingly admits.
But who will hold Fortress, or whoever else, to their promises?
Under the post-Cadbury rules, it’s the Takeover Panel. But can that small group of august City bankers really have a handle on agricultural relations for years to come?
An independent, promise-monitoring panel of experts should be established for situations such as these.
Trust in US billionaires is in short supply.