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Japanese Food Giant Wades Into UB Auction

(c) Sky News 2012

One of Japan (EUREX: FMJP.EX - news) 's biggest food companies has made a late entrance into the auction of United Biscuits' snacks arm, augmenting an array of international interest in some of Britain's best-known consumer brands.

Calbee Foods has joined bidders from Germany and the UK, as well as one backed by a Russian oligarch, for products including KP Nuts, Hula Hoops and Skips, which collectively account for hundreds of millions of pounds of UK sales.

The Japanese company, which manufactures Kappa Ebisen shrimp crisps and Saya-endo snow-pea crisps, two of the country's biggest-selling snacks, has hired Rothschild to advise it on a potential bid for UB's snacks arm.

Its (Euronext: ALITS.NX - news) move adds to the competition for the business, which includes offers from Germany's Intersnack and Pamplona, a private equity firm backed by Mikhail Fridman, one of Russia's richest men.

Calbee has only just entered the sale process, which is being run by Credit Suisse (NYSEArca: CSMA - news) on behalf of Blackstone (NYSE: BX - news) and PAI Partners, UB's current shareholders.

Founded in 1949, Calbee employs more than 3000 people and is headquartered in Tokyo.

People close to the process said it was unclear whether the company would lodge a formal bid ahead of a deadline later this month. Rothschild was previously advising Verlinvest, another bidder which dropped out of the process in the last few weeks, according to people close to the auction.

Nobody involved in the UB sale would comment.