Crunch Time In £350m Wagon Wheels Auction
More than half a dozen bidders have tabled offers for the owner of Wagon Wheels, the UK's second-biggest biscuits manufacturer.
Sky News understands that a field of predominantly financial investors submitted initial bids last week in the first stage of an auction that could raise £350m for the current owners of Burton's Biscuits.
Among the private equity groups which lodged their interest in a takeover of Burton's, according to sources close to the process, were Apax Partners, Capvest, Charterhouse and Pamplona Capital.
The giant Ontario Teachers Pension Plan, which owns Camelot, the Lotto operator, also made an offer, while Two Sisters, the owner of Fox's Biscuits, is understood to have been planning to bid.
A sale of Burton's will entail a change of ownership for another portfolio of prominent UK food brands following the sale several months ago of the snacks division of United Biscuits (UB), which included Hula Hoops and KP Skips among its products.
Burton's is Britain's second-largest biscuits manufacturer by sales, behind UB, which is also owned by two private equity groups, Blackstone and PAI Partners.
As well as Wagon Wheels, Burton's produces Jammie Dodgers, Cadbury Biscuits, Lyon's and Maryland cookies.
Based in St Albans, Hertfordshire, Burton's traces its roots back to the mid-1800s when it was founded by George Burton.
It employs more than 2,200 people around the UK in three manufacturing facilities in Llantarnam, Edinburgh and Blackpool, a chocolate refinery in Moreton and a central distribution hub in Liverpool.
Burton's is one of a sizeable number of mid-sized British companies which has been through several phases of private equity ownership.
In 2009, Apollo and CIBC, the Canadian bank, seized control of the company after Duke Street Capital, its previous owner, was forced to surrender control to the biscuit-maker's lenders.
Another private equity group, HM Capital, had bought the company in 2000 from Associated British Foods, owner of the Primark retail chain.
The auction of Burton's will pre-empt that of UB, which is expected to be put up for sale in the next couple of years.
UB, which now consists solely of a biscuits business, owns the McVitie's brand, which includes products such as Jaffa Cakes and Penguin.
Burton's declined to comment.