BUSINESS

Arctic Glacier seeks to put tarnished past behind it with sale to U.S. firm

06/08/2012 11:01 EDT | Updated 08/08/2012 05:12 EDT
Arctic Glacier hopes to regain its footing from legal challenges that have tarnished the brand of Canada's largest supplier of packaged-ice by selling its operations to a Miami-based private equity fund.

The deal announced Friday is part of a court-supervised restructuring process. It's is expected to pay all creditors and maintain Arctic Glacier's headquarters in Winnipeg.

Arctic Glacier CEO Keith McMahon said the transaction will put the company in a "strong competitive position to grow our business and strengthen our position as an industry leader in the packaged ice business."

An affiliate of H.I.G. Capital will acquire Arctic Glacier, subject to court approval in Canada and the United States and pre-merger clearance in the United States.

The transaction is expected to close by July 31.

The buyer plans to work with senior management to implement initiatives to enhance profitability and increase the value of the business.

Arctic Glacier (CNSX:AG.UN) said it expects all its employees will be offered jobs. The company employs more than 1,100 year-round and more than 2,400 during the peak summer period.

It produces 11,000 tons of ice daily.

The purchaser will assume responsibility for all trade payables, licences and some contractual obligations.

After paying all known creditors, it said there may be enough money to pay a distribution to Arctic Glacier unitholders.

The sale comes nearly four months after Arctic Glacier obtained court protection from creditors and subsequently launched a process seeking potential buyers or investors.

Several companies expressed interest, including industry leader Reddy Ice.

Founded in 1996, Arctic Glacier rapidly expanded it operations by spending US$475 million over several years to acquire 78 packaged ice businesses in the highly fragmented industry in Canada and the U.S.

That left it with US$236 million of net debt as of March 31.

It has been considering strategic alternatives since late 2010.

The company has lost more than US$224 million over the past four years, accelerating to US$84.9 million in 2011.

Arctic Glacier breached conditions of its credit facilities last summer after its financial condition was weakened by prolonged legal actions and significant refinancing costs.

Its legal problems started in 2008 when several states began antitrust investigations into the packaged ice industry.

A Michigan subsidiary agreed to pay a US$9 million U.S. Department of Justice fine. It also settled a civil litigation by agreeing to pay US$12.5 million.

In both cases, it was unable to pay scheduled instalments totalling US$17 million because of the creditor protection.

It also settled an Ontario class action lawsuit in February by agreeing to pay C$13.75 million using insurance and without admitting liability.

The securities case alleging disclosure failures involves investors who acquired Arctic Glacier units between March 22, 2002 and Sept. 16, 2008.

Arctic Glacier Income Fund operates 39 production plants and 47 distribution facilities across Canada and the northeast, central and western United States servicing more than 75,000 retail locations.

Its main product is packaged ice sold in stores. It also supplies commercial users, including bakeries and meat processors. Ice in bulk containers are sold primarily to poultry processors, the commercial fishing industry, chemical plants and concrete plants.

H.I.G. specializes in providing capital to small and medium-sized companies. Founded in 1993, its has more than $8.5 billion of equity capital under management with a portfolio of more than 50 companies.

Arctic Glacier units were delisted from the Toronto Stock Exchange in January and moved to the Canadian National Stock Exchange.