Trans-Tasman drinks group Lion Nathan has sought regulatory clearance to buy New Zealand's Independent Liquor.

Lion has approached New Zealand's competition watchdogs for the green light for a bid but insisted it had yet to reach a decision on whether to table an offer. "The application does not amount to a commitment to make an offer for Independent," Lion said today (3 July), adding it did not have "sufficient information" to make a bid.

Analysts have estimated that it would cost A$1.1m (US$818m) to buy Independent Liquor, which appointed UBS to advise it on a potential sale in May. A sale of the privately-owned company has been mooted since the death of its founder, Michael Erceg, in a helicopter crash last November.

Lion is New Zealand's largest brewer and has long stated its desire to move into dark spirits either through brand-building or acquisition. Japan's largest brewer, Kirin, owns a 46% stake in Lion.

UK-based group Halewood International has also been rumoured to be interested in deepening its relationship with Independent. In April, Halewood gained the licences for a number of Independent brands, including Twistees, Mudshake and FX, in Europe, South Africa and Mexico.