Ireland’s Kerry Group looks likely to emerge the victor in the EUR1.46bn (US$1.87bn) battle to buy the Birds Eye frozen food brand from Unilever.

The position of the perceived frontrunner, private Equity fund CapVest, which already owns Findus frozen foods, has been undermined by the withdrawal of its financial backers CVC Partners and Kohlberg Kravis Roberts. The proposed chief of the consortium, former UK Pepsi chief Martin Glenn, was also reported by the Irish Times to have withdrawn.

Kerry has maintained silence on the process but the group is said to have lined up backing from Blackstone and JP Morgan Partners for a three-way bid which would greatly enhance its standing in the frozen food sector. Last year, the company invested EUR183m to buy the London-based ready meals group Noon Foods.