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Whitbread eyes pounds 40m BrightReasons sites

Whitbread is in talks to acquire the sites owned by BrightReasons, the Pizzaland and Bella Pasta group which has 180 outlets. The price is expected to be pounds 40m-pounds 50m, far lower than previous estimates. Whitbread is undertaking its due diligence process so the deal is unlikely to be announced with half-year results next Tuesday.

Whitbread is keen to expand its leisure interests following its pounds 133m acquisition of Pelican, the Cafe Rouge and Dome restaurant group, in July. It will re-brand the Pizzaland and Bella Pasta outlets as branches of Cafe Rouge, the Dome and Costa Bros Coffee, another new Whitbread theme.

Cafe Rouge is tipped as the format most ripe for expansion. Most of its existing branches are within the M25 while 80 per cent of BrightReasons' outlets are outside London. The deal will therefore provide Whitbread with a short-cut to national coverage.

The Pizzaland and Bella Pasta formats are of little interest to Whitbread as it already jointly owns Pizza Hut with PepsiCo.

Mark Puleikis of Merrill Lynch praised the deal. "Potentially, it looks very good. Whitbread wants to roll out the Cafe Rouge chains and this is a perfect way to do that."

BrightReasons was founded in 1990 by Michael Guthrie. Bella Pasta, which has 54 outlets, was launched in 1992 having evolved from the Pastificio chain. Pizzaland was acquired from Grand Metropolitan in 1991. It now has 104 branches. There are 20 branches of Pizza Piazza which were acquired from Rank in 1993.

An attempt at stock market flotation failed and BrightReasons was put up for sale earlier this month.