Investors are lining up to buy the American drinks division of Cadbury Schweppes should the company decide to sell the business, which includes name brands such as 7Up, Dr Pepper and Snapple.

Private equity firms including as Kohlberg Kravis Roberts and Texas Pacific Group are among those believed to be interested in bidding for the beverage group, while Lion Capital and Blackstone – who acquired the Cadbury bottling business in 2005 – have also been mentioned.

If a bidding war does break out then analysts have said the operation could be worth anywhere between #7.3 billion and #8.1 billion.

Cadbury announced last week that it was demerging its drinks and confectionary operations. The announcement came after American investor Nelson Peltz bought out three per cent of the company, immediately putting pressure on the firm to split, thereby creating more value.

The board said it would be evaluating its options, which include floatation, in order to maximise the benefit to shareholders.

However, the private equity hawks, attracted by the high profile drinks brands, may present the board with an offer it can't refuse, thus clearing the way for the sale of the business.

It is believed contingencies are in hand and that the firm's bankers, UBS, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs, have already drawn up a prospectus for the sale of the drinks business, which will be sent to investors in June.

The speculation is having a beneficial effect on shares, but there is concern that once the sale is completed the private equity speculators will turn their attention to the company's confectionary business.

Broker Citigroup was one of the first to applaud the group's plans to accelerate its demerger, saying: "As stand alone businesses, both confectionery and beverages are prime acquisition candidates.

"In our view there is a 50 per cent chance that Cadbury confectionery will be bid for within 12 months. Although there is logic in combining confectionery with Hershey or Kraft, we think the most compelling logic is a combination of Nestle and Wrigley."

It has said a trade buyer for the drinks operation is unlikely because of competition from beverage giants Coca-Cola and Pepsi, and that the eventual purchaser is more likely to be a private equity group.

If the drinks division is attractive to the speculators then the confectionary giant, with its catalogue of top brands would irresistible.

Analysts have said the Bournville company could be worth as much as #11 billion, and possibly more in the event of a bidding war.

The shadow of the private equity investors has loomed large over British business in the past few weeks with in addition to Cadbury's, speculation growing over the possible sale of such market leading concerns as J Sainsbury, Alliance Boots and Kingfisher.

Investors in Sainsbury's will be hoping for word soon on whether a new consortium of private equity groups plans to table a rival bid for the supermarket.

Sainsbury's is already subject to interest from a consortium of four private equity firms led by CVC Capital. US private equity firms Bain Capital and Apollo Management are also thought to be considering an offer.

KKR is also eyeing the retail sector, aiding deputy chairman Stefano Pessina in his bid to take over Alliance Boots.

If these companies can be targeted then there are concerns that no one in British industry is safe from the clutches of the private equity investors.

Rumours have circulated that consumer foods groups Unilever could be a bid target, while BT may also come into the crosshairs at some point.

However, the telecoms giant is not going down without a fight. It has sounded out investors on plans to return at least #2 billion to shareholders in a bid to deter private equity interest.