Bidders line up for Beck's the brewery

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The Independent Online

Beck's beer has been put up for sale by the shareholders in Brauerei Beck & Co, the privately-held German brewer of the country's fashionable export beer brand.

Analysts expect bidding for the brewery to be fiercely contested, with Scottish & Newcastle, Britain's biggest brewer, believed to be just one of a string of foreign drinks companies that are said to be interested in acquiring the company. Buyers are understood to be prepared to pay up to £900m for the business.

A spokesman for S&N, which already has an exclusive deal to distribute Beck's, the beer that is popular with many, in Britain, said: "Our understanding is of the UK marketplace. We would have to sit down and review the opportunities for the company."

Analysts question whether S&N could afford Beck's, especially if it has to overpay. The brewer must pay Danone £1.3bn by 2003 for Kronenburg assets that it acquired last year.

Interbrew, the maker of Stella Artois, has also declared its interest in Beck's. "Our strategy is to be active in the consolidation of the brewing industry," said Alain de Waele, Interbrew's vice president. He denied any action to acquire Beck's would be intended to compensate for the Belgian brewer's likely loss of Britain's Bass Brewers.

Anheuser Busch, the maker of Budweiser, Dutch group Heineken, and South African Breweries are among other interested parties in Beck's, also likely to include US and British venture capitalists.

At stake is access to Germany's highly fragmented beer market, in which Beck's commands a 5 per cent share. The brewer sold 570m litres of beer in 2000, of which the Beck's brand accounted for 450m. The decision to put the family-owned brewery on the market may spark further consolidation in the home country, Germany.