LONDON India's United Spirits (UNSP.NS) has hired banks to help in the sale of its Whyte & Mackay Scotch whisky business, which could fetch 450 million pounds ($741.8 million) and is expected to kick off next week, sources told Reuters.
Rothschild ROT.UL, Rabobank RABN.UL and Standard Chartered (STAN.L) have been picked to advise on the sale, which was offered in November to appease UK regulators by Diageo (DGE.L) following the latter's purchase of a controlling stake in United Spirits.
Regulators had been concerned that the acquisition would hurt competition in Britain, the world's No. 3 Scotch market behind France and the United States.
Potential buyers, which could include private equity firms as well as other companies in the drinks sector, were contacted at the end of last week to gauge their interest, said one of the sources who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Information memorandums will likely be sent out next week to interested parties, another source said.
Whyte & Mackay has about 7 percent of Britain's market for blended Scotch whisky, which combines whiskies often made from various grains. It also supplies retailers with own-brand whiskies that account for 18 percent of a market worth $1.74 billion a year, according to researchers IWSR.
In July 2013 Diageo took a 28.78 percent stake in United Spirits, part of industrialist Vijay Mallya's empire.
Diageo, which already controls more than 20 percent of the UK blended market, has also offered to sell the large grain distillery at Invergordon, which accounts for the bulk of the blended Scotch Whyte & Mackay sells, as well as the smaller malt distilleries Fetercairn and Jura.
Diageo wants to keep the remaining small malt distilleries Tamnavulin and Dalmore, which it says supply United Spirits and international markets. Sources say high-end Dalmore, known for its stag's head logo, is the jewel in the crown.
United Spirits and Rabobank could not immediately be reached for comment. Standard Chartered, Diageo and Rothschild declined comment.
(Editing by David Holmes)