The brewing giant Molson Coors is among a crowd of suitors hoping to swallow Aspall Cyder, the British family-owned drinks company which has been in business for nearly 300 years.
Sky News has learnt that the US-based owner of Carling, Caffreys and Staropramen is one of a number of parties holding talks with Aspall’s board about a deal.
Sources said on Wednesday that Aspall’s board had been engaged in discussions with prospective bidders for much of the last year, and that both private equity investors and major brewers had expressed an interest in buying the Suffolk-based company.
The sale process is expected to be concluded by the end of the year.
Aspall’s search for new investors comes amid modest growth in the UK cider market, which grew by 2.1% in value terms in 2016, according to the Westons Cider Report.
The sector is worth £2.88bn annually and has 10,900 jobs dependent upon it, according to the report.
Established in 1728, Aspall has a 1.6% share of the UK cider market, but has a profile which far exceeds that financial weighting.
The identity of the other parties still talking to Aspall, which produces a range of ciders and vinegars, was unclear, as was the size of the stake that the shareholders are willing to sell.
One source suggested that the company, which employs about 120 people, was likely to have an enterprise value in excess of £40m.
Accounts filed at Companies House show that it made a profit last year of about £0.5m on turnover of £27.1m.
Henry Chevallier Guild, one of the owner-directors of Aspall, told Sky News that the company would only strike a deal with a partner “who wants to preserve the values and heritage of the brand”.
The Aspall sale process comes as Aston Manor, a cider maker owned by the former Aston Villa FC owner, Doug Ellis, also explores a sale.
A spokesman for Molson Coors declined to comment.