India-born beer baron Lord Karan Billimoria has put his Cobra Beer on the block for £200 million ($300 million). The mandate for scouting potential investors has been given to NM Rothschild, reports The Sunday Times. The decision comes months after Cobra's talks with world's largest spirits maker Diageo failed. The potential buyers likely to be contacted include brewers with a strong presence in the U.K. such as Carlsberg, Heineken, United Breweries, InBev and Molson Coors. Private equity funds are also likely to be approached.
The Sunday Times adds that Billimora is keen to "secure investment to take Cobra to the next stage of its development."
After the talks with Diageo failed, Cobra raised $22.5 million from its existing shareholders, including Billimoria. Billimoria owns more than two-thirds of the firm, and may now be looking to sell out. Other shareholders are US hedge fund Och-Ziff Capital Management, with an investment of $55 million, and some angel investors. Employees of the firm also hold stake in Cobra.
Cobra has retail sales of $266 million and is one of the fastest growing beers in Britain, though it is still to make a profit. Billimoria started with selling Cobra beer in 1990 in the curry houses of Britain and today 95% of Indian restaurants stock the beer in Britain. It was initially brewed in India and later got licence for Britain in 1997.
Cobra has growing foothold in the Indian beer market, which is a duopoly at this stage, with Mallya's UB and SAB Miller controlling more than 80% of the market. Cobra sold 4.1 million cases of beer worldwide last year, with 23% of its sales in India. Cobra recently acquired 76% stake in Iceberg brewery in Bihar and has bottling arrangements with eight breweries across the country.
The acquisition of Cobra by any of the international spirits players will give them a good foothold in the Indian market, one of the fastest growing beer markets in the world. The beer market in the country is pegged around 12 million hectolitres and is expected to double in the next five years.