No clear favourite has emerged in the race to buy the package of brands put up for sale by Unilever ­ although they are likely to fall into American hands. Unilever was forced to start the auction to satisfy EU regulators over its £13.7bn acquisition of Bestfoods. Brands up for sale include Oxo and Batchelor's in the UK, plus Royco, Lesieur, McDonnells and Bla Bland on the continent. Unilever's Rotterdam office said there had been "plenty of interest" in the disposals, collectively valued at around £300m. A spokesman said: "The Commission has given us a reasonable time to get a fair price. But obviously we want a strong buyer to ensure the job security of our staff." One analyst said: "My money is on a US buyer. Heinz is probably the prime candidate. Hicks, Muse Tate & Furst could be interested, though its hands are full with Hillsdown at the moment." Unilever will not comment on whether it wants to sell the brands as a package or separately. One analyst said this was critical: "Northern Foods could be interested in Batchelor's, but whether it is interested in Royco or Bla Bland is another matter." Another said: "Venture capitalists have been vacuuming up bits of the industry lately. It's not inconceivable Doughty Hanson is looking at Oxo. RHM is another possibility." A decision on the separate sale of Bestfoods' bakery business is expected within the year. Unilever and Bestfoods shareholders rubberstamped the deal this week. Unilever chairman Niall FitzGerald said the group was on course to meet growth targets. He also said the deal would generate synergies of £480m by 2002. {{NEWS }}