Grolsch stalked by Bass

BASS, the UK drinks and leisure group, is eyeing up Grolsch as a possible bridgehead into the Continental beer market after the Dutch brewer rejected an approach from the Belgian beer giant, Interbrew.

Talks between Grolsch - known for its distinctive flip-top bottles - and Interbrew, makers of Stella Artois lager, broke down last week over strategy differences. Bass already brews and packages lager for Grolsch in Britain.

"They (Grolsch) need a strong partner, maybe one taking its first step into continental Europe," said Gerard Rijk, an analyst at ING Barings in Amsterdam.

Bass already has a stake in three Czech brewers and a 55 per cent interest in a joint brewing venture in China, but has no businesses in the European Union outside the UK.

Bass declined to comment on suggestions it was ready to make an offer for Grolsch, currently worth around pounds 300m. However, analysts said a beer brand such as Grolsch would fit in nicely with the UK brewer's strategy of focusing on its core businesses of branded drinks and luxury hotels.

As part of this strategy, Bass last month sold its electronics entertainment business BLMS to Leisure Link Group for pounds 70m in cash.

Grolsch's discussions with Interbrew, the world's fourth-largest brewer, broke down because Interbrew wanted to halt a pounds 100m investment in a new brewery in Holland, which Grolsch wants to build to support a push into export markets in Britain and the US.

Bass's purchase of Grolsch could be seen as partly defensive, since it could be used to halt the emergence of another competitor in the UK market to Bass's primary brands, which include the Tennent's range and Carling Black Label.

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