Carlsberg stands by to swallow Interbrew lagers

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The Independent Online

Carlsberg, the Danish brewer which lost out in the race to buy Bass's brewing interests, is seen as the front-runner to gobble up any lager brands which Belgium's Interbrew is forced to divest for competition reasons.

Carlsberg, the Danish brewer which lost out in the race to buy Bass's brewing interests, is seen as the front-runner to gobble up any lager brands which Belgium's Interbrew is forced to divest for competition reasons.

Interbrew, the Belgian maker of Stella Artois, agreed to pay £2.3bn for the Bass assets in June, shortly after it announced the £400m purchase of Whitbread's beer unit. Together, the two deals will hand Interbrew an estimated 32 per cent share of the UK beer market, making it the country's biggest brewer.

Last week, the Department of Trade and Industry won the right to investigate the Bass deal, prompting talk that Interbrew will be forced to dispose of lager brands such as Tennent's and Grolsch to satisfy the DTI's antitrust concerns. One analyst said: "Carlsberg would be the obvious buyer if a premium lager brand comes up for sale."

A spokesman for Carlsberg confirmed: "If anything should come on the market that falls within our core interests, then we will look at it." The Copenhagen-based company is understood to have been the runner-up in the drawn-out auction of the Bass brewing unit and would likely see some of the bigger Bass brands as an attractive consolation prize. But analysts said Carlsberg could face competition from its Dutch rival Heineken, or the London-listed South African Breweries, both of which took part in the bidding for Bass's drinks unit.

A spokesman for SAB said: "Clearly Bass, Interbrew and Whitbread have a long way to go in terms of their negotiations with the regulatory authorities." A Heineken spokesman could not be reached for comment.

Carlsberg is the UK's fourth-biggest brewer through its Carlsberg-Tetley subsidiary, formed in the early 1990s in a joint venture with Allied-Lyons, now Allied Domecq. Bass bought 50 per cent of Carlsberg-Tetley in 1996 but was forced to sell its stake back to Carlsberg after the deal was blocked by Margaret Beckett, then secretary of state for trade and industry.

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