HAVING agreed to lay out #180m for the United Biscuits restaurant

subsidiary which comprises 381 Wimpy restaurants, 131 Pizzaland

restaurants and 130 Perfect Pizza takeaway/home delivery pizza

outlets,it is not surprising that Allen Sheppard, the chairman and chief

executive of Grand Metropolitan, should say that the purchase provides

GrandMet ''with a rare opportunity to gain the sites needed to expand

our European retailing operations''.

At the beginning of this year GrandMet paid #3500m for the US group

Pillsbury which includes what is normally described as the

''struggling'' hamburger business, Burger King.

GrandMet which, with 15,000 outlets, describes itself as the world

leader in service retailing, has made it clear that its game plan is to

build up its catering side. It sees the purchase of Wimpy (which claims

a third of the UK hamburger market) and Pizzaland as an opportunity to

make Burger King, which at the moment only has 30 UK outlets, a much

bigger name in UK high streets.

According to a spokesman some of the Wimpy sites will become Burger

Kings but it is too early to say how many. GrandMet will also have to

discuss its plans with its franchisees.

It also sees the acquisition of Wimpy as a good platform from which to

expand the Burger King name in Europe. At the moment there are 148 Wimpy

bars and 23 Pizzaland restaurants in Europe. Essentially, GrandMet

regards the acquisition of the United Biscuits restaurant interests as a

means of strengthening its European retailing operations by providing a

portfolio of excellent sites which will enable major synergies to be


In calendar year 1988, the United Biscuits restaurant business made a

trading profit of #11.2m out of sales of #147.4m but GrandMet obviously

feels that because of the economies of scale that it can obtain, it can

improve on the return in capital.

As for United Biscuits, the reason for selling its restaurants

business is to use the proceeds to build up its core business of

manufacturing biscuits, snacks, confectionery and frozen foods.

However a month ago it was dealt a heavy blow when the French company

BSN beat it to the punch on the bidding for the European interest of the

huge US group RJR Nabisco. The result is that BSN rather than United

Biscuits has become the biggest biscuit maker in Europe.

United Biscuits might well find other avenues for expansion in Europe

but at the moment it tends to be regarded as a potential takeover victim

rather than a potential predator. Despite denials the Swiss group Jacobs

Suchard is still regarded as a potential bidder even although a Suchard

bid for Cadbury Schweppes would seem more logical than a bid for UB.