Soul Patts takes $10m slice of Retail Food Group

Soul Patts takes $10m slice of Retail Food Group

Emboldened by a successful investment in TPG Telecom (ASX: TPG) boosted by a merger with Vodafone, longstanding fund Washington H Soul Pattinson (ASX: SOL) is now making a $10 million bet on some of Australia's most well-known food and beverage franchises.

The country's second-oldest listed company announced today it had acquired close to 137.8 million in Gold Coast-based Retail Food Group (ASX: RFG), giving it a 6.5 per cent share in an enterprise that came out of the doldrums to pull off a turnaround last financial year.

Known for brands including Pizza Capers, Crust Pizza, Michel's Patisserie, Brumby's, Donut King, Gloria Jeans and Di Bella Coffee, RFG was embroiled in controversy for years over its treatment of franchisees and corporate governance issues.

In March last year a parliamentary enquiry committee dedicated an entire chapter to RFG in its Fairness in Franchising report, claiming it had "damaged the reputation of franchising" in Australia and taken advantage of the power balance with franchisees.

Around that time there were even rumours swirling that the group would go into administration, but RFG dismissed the speculation and moved on.

Shareholder value was steadily eroded from around 17 cents per share to a closing price of 7.4 cents yesterday; barely a shadow of its glory days around the $7 mark in early 2017.

But the Millner family-backed Washington H Soul Pattinson (WHSP) appears to have faith that RFG has turned a corner, throwing beans and flour into its portfolio mix that also includes the likes of Brickworks (ASX: BKW), coal miner New Hope Corporation (ASX: NHC), Round Oak Minerals and a range of pharmaceutical, financial services and property investments.

RFG investors responded positively to the news with shares up 12.16 per cent at the time of writing, while SOL shares rose by 3.73 per cent to trade at 18-month highs of around $27.65.

The institional investor also recently sold around $4.8 million worth of shares in nutrition ingredients business Clover Corporation (ASX: CLV) via its vehicle Pengana Capital Holdings, a fund co-founded in 2003 by then Prime Minister-to-be Malcolm Turnbull who sold his stake to National Australia Bank (ASX: NAB) in 2008.

In 2008 NAB sold its shares in Pengana to Soul Patts, which now owns close to 40 per cent of the entity.

WHSP also recently wound down around $6.9 million worth of investments in financial services company EQT Holdings (ASX: EQT).

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