Matthew Clark fails to find a buyer

Matthew Clark, the troubled cider company that includes Diamond White and Dry Blackthorn, has failed to attract a buyer despite an attempt to encourage takeover interest. The news raises doubts about the group's future, according to City sources.

Several drinks groups are believed to have run a slide rule over Matthew Clark after being encouraged to make an approach. HP Bulmer, the UK's leading cider maker and Matthew Clark's main rival, is understood to have had a serious look at the business, despite potential concerns from competition authorities that a deal would give it a monopoly over the cider market.

However, Bulmer is understood to have been reluctant to launch a bid as it did not see the merit in adding new brands to its extensive portfolio, which includes Strongbow and Woodpecker. It also had concerns about Matthew Clark's trading prospects. The group is still losing market share to Bulmer.

Pernod-Ricard, the French drinks giant, has also considered making an offer. But it too has ruled out an offer according to industry sources.

Matthew Clark has been hit by the slump in the cider market and the growing popularity of alternative drinks such as alcopops.

It has launched a pounds 10m advertising campaign designed to reverse falling sales of its main brands but so far the results have been very disappointing.

Matthew Clark's problems came to a head last December when it revealed interim profits fell nearly a fifth to pounds 17.7m. The group also warned full-year profits would fall below expectations due to poor pre-Christmas trading. The figures prompted an outcry from some institutional shareholders who called for Peter Aikens, the group's chief executive, to step down.

Matthew Clark's share price has plummeted from a high as 801p in 1996 to 166.5p, valuing the group at just pounds 147m.

Cider makers' troubles have raised the prospect of further consolidation in the sector. Last year Merrydown, the Sussex cider maker, announced that it was in takeover talks.

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