Major shareholders in UK snack maker United Biscuits are beginning preparations to float the company on the stock market, according to a newspaper report.

Cinven, PAI and Mid Ocean Partners, three private-equity firms that between them own 75% of United Biscuits, aim to float the company as early as the first quarter of 2006, the Sunday Times reported, citing sources.

The flotation could value the company, which owns the McVitie's, Jacob's, Hula Hoops and McCoy's brands, at more than £2bn (US$3.6bn), according to the report.

United Biscuits, in which US food giant Kraft has a 25% stake, was taken private in April 2000.