United Biscuits private equity owners mull sale

Another long-standing British food company may be about to go under the hammer, as the private equity owners of United Biscuits put out feelers to investment banks over a sale that could reach £2bn.

Blackstone and PAI Partners are trawling for advisers on the sale of the group which owns a host of favourite brands including McVitie's, Hula Hoops and KP Nuts.

No decision has been made, although Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan are understood to be in the running. The sale process could start as soon as the autumn and conclude early next year.

The two private equity giants are also believed to be considering selling the snacks and biscuits businesses separately if such deals make more sense. Alternatively, United Biscuits could be listed on the Stock Exchange if offers are not at a high enough price.

United Biscuits was listed on the FTSE 100 before it was bought out by the US firm Blackstone and PAI Partners of France, for £1.6bn, in 2006. The pair of private equity firms have been expected to find an exit by listing the company either this year or next for some time. And United Biscuits' listed rival Premier Foods has also been tipped as a possible buyer for the group in the past.

The group started life in 1948 with the merger of two Scottish family businesses, McVitie & Price and MacFarlane Lang. Six decades later, it boasts 11 factories across the UK and another four in Europe, producing a wide array of food products including Twiglets, The Real McCoy's crisps, and Jacob's Cream Crackers.

United Biscuits saw revenue growth of 5 per cent to £1.26bn and earnings shoot up by 13.7 per cent to £223m in 2009.

Some commentators tip Kraft as a possible bidder, fresh from its acquisition of Cadbury earlier in the year. But the disappearance of another slew of British food brands to the American group's ownership could re-ignite the controversy over the Cadbury takeover.

Blackstone, PAI Partners and United Biscuits all declined to comment on the situation yesterday.

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