The privately owned pub group Laurel is planning to float on the London Stock Exchange if it succeeds in winning control of Scottish & Newcastle's pub estate.
S&N is auctioning the 1,400-strong portfolio to focus on brewing. Offers are believed to have ranged from £2.3bn to £2.5bn.
Laurel, which owns the hog's head chain, is bidding in conjunction with the Japanese bank Nomura. Other interested parties include the secretive Reuben brothers and Mitchells & Butlers, the pub chain recently demerged from Six Continents.
Laurel would become the country's largest managed pub company if it were to buy the estate. Should it float, it would have an estimated valuation of around £2.5bn.
One source close to the company said: "One way of growing is the organic route but clearly if it got 1,400 [pubs] in one fell swoop, it would go beyond that and be a very good company to float." The source added that, subject to market conditions, Laurel "definitely" wanted to become a public company. Laurel declined to comment.
Bidders have until Friday to submit revised offers to S&N. The deal is expected to complete by the end of the year.