Belgians lead the race to bag crisp maker Tyrrells

A Belgian private-equity firm with links to the Anheuser-Busch InBev beer empire has emerged as a front-runner to acquire Tyrrells, the upmarket crisp maker, for £100m.

The Brussels-based Verlinvest is understood to be one of the leading contenders to win Tyrrells but it faces competition from a small number of buyout firms and possibly trade buyers. Founded in 2002, Tyrrells, owned by the private equity firm Langholm Capital, has expanded its presence outside the big UK supermarkets to partners overseas from China to India over recent years.

Langholm put Tyrrells on the market by hiring advisers at McQueen, and the auction process is now at an advanced stage. First-round bids were due at the end of May.

Speculation has linked Kellogg's, the US food giant, and Tangerine, the Blackpool-based confectionery firm that owns Butterkist popcorn, to a bid for Tyrrells but sources have cast doubts on their interest.

However, it remains unclear if Calbee, a Japanese snacks firm, is in the running to buy the Herefordshire-based crisp maker.

Verlinvest, which manages the wealth of certain founding families of Anheuser-Busch InBev, the owner of the Stella Artois, Beck's and Budweiser beers, has form in the crisp industry. It acquired a major stake in the US brand Popchips from the private equity firm TSG Consumer Partners last year.

Langholm Capital, which is backed by the consumer goods giant Unilever, acquired Tyrrells in a deal worth £40m in 2008.

The maker of hand-cooked crisps operates in more than 20 countries, with its biggest markets outside the UK being the US, Canada, France and Germany.

Langholm and McQueen declined to comment. Verlinvest did not respond to requests for comment.

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