Pubs chief to front takeover of beleaguered Wolves & Dudley

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The Independent Online

The UK's biggest regional brewer, Wolverhampton & Dudley, is set to become a bid target after Botts & Company, a privately held investment group, said yesterday that it was planning to make an approach about a possible offer.

The UK's biggest regional brewer, Wolverhampton & Dudley, is set to become a bid target after Botts & Company, a privately held investment group, said yesterday that it was planning to make an approach about a possible offer.

Shares in the troubled Pedigree beer to Pitcher & Piano pubs group closed up 17p at 372p. On Friday, they jumped as much as 10 per cent on speculation of an offer.

Robin Black, a director at Botts & Co, confirmed that the group was working with Robert Breare, chief executive of the pubs company InnSpired, to put together a friendly bid. InnSpired, which is controlled by Alchemy Partners, paid £28m to acquire 174 W&D pubs in June.

Mr Breare is a prominent figure in the leisure industry. He was formerly chief executive of Arcadium International, the hospitality company, and chairman of Malmaison, the branded hotels chain. Botts & Co was the biggest shareholder in Malmaison and has since backed Mr Breare's latest venture, a bar and restaurants company called Noble House Leisure that recently bought up a handful of Fatty Arbuckles and Jim Thompson's restaurants.

Asked to respond to the Botts announcement, Leslie Porter, W&D's company secretary, said: "I know absolutely nothing. I hadn't even heard of [Botts & Co] until today." Ralph Findlay, the group's finance director and chief executive designate, was out of the office yesterday and unavailable for comment.

W&D has looked vulnerable to a takeover bid since May, when it unveiled a slump in operating margins which caused its shares to tumble to their lowest levels since September 1989.

The company has found itself threatened by the aggressive price-cutting of competitors such as JD Wetherspoon, while the group's top beer brands, such as Banks's, Camerons and Pedigree are less fashionable than premium lager brands such as Interbrew's Stella Artois.

Last year, W&D paid £536.3m to acquire Marston, Thompson and Evershed and Mansfield Brewery in a move which many described as "over-ambitious".

Earlier this year, Alchemy lost out in its bid to buy Rover.

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