Ahold looking for buyer
Dutch retail giant Ahold is searching for a buyer for its troubled£2 billion US Foodservice subsidiary, according to reports.

City sources indicated yesterday that a number of potential suitors are preparing bids of up to US$5 billion (£2.67 billion) for the business, because it is understood that Ahold will dispose of the division in preparation for a mooted merger with Belgian rival Delhaize.

One of the potential bidders is believed to be US private equity firm Blackstone. Others mentioned include two hedge funds, Centaurus Capital and Paulson, which have built up a 6.4 per cent stake in the E12.5 billion (£8.47 billion) business.

It is also understood that the South African food services group Bidvest, which bought Deli XL, Ahold's European wholesale business, has expressed an interest in bidding.

The news comes after it was revealed on Friday that US Foodservice had avoided prosecution for accounting fraud as a result of a US$1.1 billion (£587.6 million) out-of-court settlement with investors.

US Foodservice cost Ahold more than US$6.6 billion (£3.53 billion) in 2000 and 2001 when it was pieced together from three acquisitions. It generated about one third of Ahold's E44.5 billion (£30.15 billion) sales last year.

A spokeswoman for Ahold said: 'We cannot comment on any of the speculation. All I can say is that we are focusing on a strategic review which we will report on before 21 December.'

Blackstone was unavailable for comment.