Unwins mulls bid for off-licence rival Oddbins

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The Independent Online

Unwins, the privately held off-licence chain, is expected to launch a bid for Oddbins, the rival business which is set to be sold as a result of the $23.5bn (£16.2bn) merger between its owner, Seagram of Canada, and the French group Vivendi.

Unwins, the privately held off-licence chain, is expected to launch a bid for Oddbins, the rival business which is set to be sold as a result of the $23.5bn (£16.2bn) merger between its owner, Seagram of Canada, and the French group Vivendi.

Although officials at Seagram have not formally confirmed that Oddbins is for sale, it is widely believed that the enlarged group would be open to offers. Analysts have valued the wine specialist at up to £50m.

Asked whether Unwins would be interested in acquiring the 245 Oddbins outlets, Bill Rolfe, marketing director, said: "We would always be interested in any proposition which was put to us to grow our retail estate."

Earlier this year, the company paid £7.5m to add 61 Fuller's Wine Merchants shops to its portfolio. The deal took Unwins' total number of outlets to 453 with a turnover of more than £200m.

One analyst said: "Unwins is the most obvious buyer. My only concern is whether they could afford it."

Other possible bidders include Sir Richard Branson's Virgin group, which recently launched a dedicated wine site, Virginwine.com. Parisa, the company behind the Wine Cellar, Right Choice and Booze Buster stores is another name in the frame, as is Nomura, the Japanese finance house that last week completed the £225m acquisition of First Quench, the Thresher to Victoria Wine group, from joint owners Whitbread and Punch Taverns.

A spokesman for Nomura's Principal Finance Group did not rule out the bank as a possible bidder. But he said: "They haven't even looked at it or thought about it. It's not on their horizon at the moment."

Oddbins is currently run as part of Seagram's spirits and wine division, which is being auctioned off in a sale that is expected to raise around $7bn (£4.83bn).

J Sainsbury, the supermarket group that last week unveiled a joint venture with Oddbins to sell 3,000 branded wines over the internet, digital television and through its stores, is not thought to be interested in taking the relationship with Oddbins further, although analysts said it could make sense for the off-licence chain to be acquired by another supermarkets group.

Independent wine sellers have struggled in recent years to compete with the aggressive discounting of supermarket chains. As property costs have risen, they have also found it difficult to increase their critical mass through organic expansion.

The cut-throat high street conditions have led to a raft of closures and takeovers, which have seen the disappearance of names such as Ashe & Nephew, Peter Dominic and Davisons.

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