Shares in Britvic lost their fizz this week after UK private equity group Permira sold its 14% stake in the soft drinks maker.

The group got rid of its entire holding, consisting of about 30m shares, at a discount, selling to various institutions with the average sale price understood to be around 270 pence a share, netting Permira some GBP81.5m.

A spokesman for Permira said yesterday (28 May) that its strategy was to make "controlled investments" and as such it had decided to sell its "passive stake" in Britvic.

The European buyout house bought into the Robinsons juice-to-Tango drinks maker in late 2006 at a price of 268p at the height of the buy-out frenzy. The company was expected to use the investment as a springboard for a takeover bid, but plans never materialised.

And with Britvic posting a 16.3% rise in half-year profits earlier this month, the company was seeing signs of improvement in the UK soft drinks market and the outlook was positive.

Permina's decision, however, to sell its stake, left shares in Britvic, which had risen in value by around a quarter in the last three months, sliding 5.2% this week to 275p, valuing the group at about GBP625m.

UBS began placing the shares at 265½p each, so Permira is understood to have made a small profit on its investment.

The sale however, ends years of speculation that Britvic could be the target of a private equity buy-out and analysts have welcomed the move. 

"While this may place pressure on the share price in the near term, we would view a placing as a positive development. Permira has long been seen as likely to dispose of its stake, with the overhang a cause of negative sentiment for the shares," said Cazenove analyst Andrew Ford.

Two years ago, Permira, which owns stakes in UK fashion retailer New Look and frozen food company Birds Eye, was thought to be considering a move to acquire Britvic. 

In May 2007, the drinks company said it had met with Permira, but played down suggestions that any such move was discussed.

On Wednesday Permina said: "At the time of the investment, we had a broader strategic plan, but the market has changed since then."

A particularly big hurdle to acquiring Britvic would have been its close ties to PepsiCo, the US drinks group, which holds a 5% stake in the company. Britvic holds the exclusive UK bottling licence for PepsiCo.

However, reports at the time suggested that Pepsi wasn't too pleased with the prospect of selling out to Permira, quelling speculation of any such move.

Just as well, as Permira has been under pressure in recent months, calling in restructuring specialists to one of its investments, BorsodChem, as well as writing down its stake in Gala Coral to zero and dropping the valuation on its latest purchase, Valentino.

With the private equity group never actually seeking a seat on Britvic's board, some may question whether the company ever really saw the share buy turning into a possible takeover or whether it was merely a fruitless use of investor money.

Some have suggested Permira may have bought in anticipation of a bid from a rival private equity group, such as Blackstone, owner of the Orangina drinks maker, or United Biscuits owner PAI Partners.

Permira chairman Damon Buffini however, believes the company is "well diversified" but that every part of Permira had been hit by the downturn, warning that there could be worse to come.

"We have taken some difficult decisions over the last year and there will be more to come in the months ahead, as we seek to secure the long-term future of the Permira funds' companies," he said this week.