A private-equity consortium of Pacific Equity Partners and Nikko Principal Investments has reportedly tabled the highest bid for New Zealand RTD group Independent Liquor.

According to the Australian Financial Review today (7 December), the consortium made an offer of around NZ$1.13bn (US$778m).

Lion Nathan, considered the front-runner before yesterday's deadline, has also lodged a bid close to the highest offer, the report said.

Analysts had 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.

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".

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.