Cobra Beer's search for a buyer has taken longer than expected, just-drinks understands, but several parties remain interested in acquiring the group.

Cobra founder Lord Bilimoria had originally hoped to agree a sale of the business by the end of March, just-drinks understands from a source close to the situation.

Despite passing that date, however, the group remains upbeat about its chances of securing a buyer, with one source describing interest in the firm as "very healthy".

Cobra, which brews beer in India and also sells to restaurants, bars and retailers in the UK, began sales presentations to interested parties early in February. Around the same time, it announced that UK beer sales by volume rose by 21% for the six months to the end of January. The rise, albeit from a low base, contrasts with a UK beer market down by more than 5% in volume for 2008.

A spokesperson for Cobra said today (9 April) that the sale process "is ongoing", but declined to put a timetable on the sale or comment on interest from specific parties.

A report in yesterday's Economic Times in India cited sources as saying that billionaire investor Wilbur Ross has emerged as a contender for Cobra. It put a price tag on the business of up to GBP150m.

just-drinks understands that both Diageo and SABMiller have previously examined Cobra's business, but decided not to enter a deal.

Cobra said in December that it would be willing to split its Indian and UK operations in order to secure a sale.