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Several Companies Express Interest in Fructal

Ljubljana, 18 March (STA) - Several bidders were reported to have filed expressions of interest in a 93.7% stake in fruit drinks producer Fructal that is being sold by Pivovarna Union, a part of the debt-ridden beverage group Pivovarna Lasko.

Pivovarna Union did not disclose the number of expressions it had received nor the names of the entities interested after the close of the call at noon on Friday.

But it said that it was happy with the expression entered, something that was echoed by Lasko, which said the interest expressed confirmed that Fructal was a leading company in its branch in SE Europe.

The group cited confidentiality guarantees given to the bidders in saying that it would not provide further details at this time.

It added that the sale process would now proceed, with those companies that had expressed interest being provided more financial details on which they will be able to decide on filing non-binding bids.

Public broadcaster TV Slovenija reported last week that Italian soft drinks maker San Benedetto had all but secured the deal. But the Italian company strongly refuted the report on Monday.

Meanwhile, the municipality in which the company is based, Ajdovscina, said it had filed an expression of interest in the stake.

The municipality, which fears the sale to a foreign company would hurt the local fruit growers, said it was examining possibilities for forming a consortium to carry out the takeover.

The Fructal group employs around 500 workers. It generated annual revenues of EUR 56m in 2009.

The sale is part of a deinvestment strategy adopted by Lasko as a promise to banks to reduce its mountain of debt reportedly valued at around EUR 400m caused by failed management buyout.

The group is also selling its majority stake in newspaper publisher Delo and a minority stake in grocer Mercator, which is proving to be a highly contentious process due to sensitivities involved with selling the major provider of shelf space to the Slovenian food industry.

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