WHITBREAD, the brewing and leisure group, has swallowed BrightReasons, the group that includes 180 pasta and pizza restaurants, for #46m in cash.

BrightReasons, the UK's largest independent restaurant company, owns the Pizzaland, Bella Pasta and Pizza Piazza chains.

Whitbread said the deal included the potential for an extra payment payable after it had sold on the Pizza Piazza business.

The conclusion of the deal follows weeks of speculation after BrightReasons was put up for sale last month by venture capital groups, led by Mercury Asset Management, who together held an 85.6% stake in the company.

David Thomas, managing director of Whitbread's restaurants and leisure division, said: ``The attraction of the business is that it gives us a large number of sites, as well as the Bella Pasta brand, which we intend to expand.''

He said pasta was one of the growing sectors of the market with particular appeal to women, who made up the majority of Bella Pasta customers.

``BrightReasons is profitable and we are looking forward to working with the existing management and staff in developing our plans for the business,'' said Mr Thomas.

BrightReasons was set up five years ago by chairman Michael Guthrie when he acquired Pizzaland from Grand Metropolitan.