Coca-Cola is to acquire Britain’s biggest coffee chain, Costa Coffee, from owner Whitbread in a deal worth £3.9 billion ($5.1bn). The transaction is expected to close in the first half of 2019.

The sale marks the end of Whitbread’s 23-year ownership of Costa, which it purchased for £19 million ($25m) when it had just 39 shops. At present, the chain has more than 2,400 shops in the UK, 1,400 in more than 30 international markets and 8,237 vending machines worldwide.

It was understood that Whitbread would spin off Costa and list it as a separate entity. However, the company commented that a sale of the business to Coca-Cola is now “in the best interests of shareholders”.

Coca-Cola’s chief executive James Quincey said: “Costa gives Coca-Cola new capabilities and expertise in coffee, and our system can create opportunities to grow the Costa brand worldwide.

“Hot beverages is one of the few remaining segments of the total beverage landscape where Coca-Cola does not have a global brand. Costa gives us access to this market through a strong coffee platform.”