The deadline for bids for New Zealand's Independent Liquor passed today (6 December) but front-runner Lion Nathan remained tight-lipped on whether it had tabled an offer.

Analysts have valued Independent, the maker of RTD brands including Vodka Cruiser and Mudshake, at around A$1.1bn (US$868m) and the company has attracted a range of interest.

Lion, the Trans-Tasman beer and wine group, is widely perceived as the leading contender in a field that is understood to include Foster's Group, Diageo, Asia Pacific Breweries and a number of private equity groups.

In recent months, Lion has applied for clearance from competition watchdogs in Australia and New Zealand to proceed with a bid for Independent, should it wish to do so.

However, despite all signs pointing to a bid from Lion, the company refused to be drawn on whether it had thrown its hat into the ring. "We are not making any comment at all on this," a Lion spokesman told just-drinks.

Independent was put up for sale in the wake of the death of its founder, Michael Erceg, in a helicopter crash in last year. The company's directors had asked UBS to manage the sale but the investment bank has refused to comment on many bids it had received. An announcement on the sale is expected before the end of December.

Lion faces competition from private equity firm CCMP Capital and a consortium of two private equity groups, Pacific Equity Partners and Nikko Principal Investments.

Other names are still in the running for Independent, however. Last week, Diageo was given the all-clear from Australia's competition watchdog to proceed with a possible bid for Independent.

Foster's Group has also been mentioned as a possible bidder, although just-drinks understands that the company would only consider buying Independent if it was available at a "knock-out price".

Asia Pacific Breweries, the owner of New Zealand beer maker DB Breweries, has also signalled its interest in the RTD producer.