LONDON (Reuters) - Whirlpool Corp (WHR.N), the world's biggest home appliance company, is set to battle Middleby (MIDD.O) for Britain's Aga Rangemaster AGA.L, the maker of range cookers synonymous with affluent British middle-class country life.
Aga, which has seen a drop in demand for its 7,000 pound ($10,780) enameled cast-iron cookers since the downturn, accepted a $201 million offer from Middleby in July, saying it could benefit from the U.S. firm's global distribution network.
Aga has opened its books to Whirlpool but said it recommends Middleby's bid for now.
Whirlpool's approach means two U.S. rivals are fighting to buy a British company which is a cornerstone of country living, and which has lent its name to a genre of fiction - the Aga saga - about the machinations of village life.
Shares in Aga, which closed on Friday at 183.25 pence, just below Middleby's 185 pence a share offer, jumped 10 percent to 201 pence in early trade on as investors eyed a bidding war.
The sale of Aga, which traces its history back to 1939, to U.S. food service company Middleby was due to be approved by shareholders on Sept. 8.
Aga, which has around $400 million in annual sales and employs 2,500 staff, said it could adjourn a meeting to sanction the Middleby takeover if it received an offer from Whirlpool that it could recommend to shareholders.
Reporting by Paul Sandle; editing by Kate Holton and Louise Heavens