Whitbread, the leisure group that operates Costa Coffee, is thought to be weighing a bid for Coffee Nation, the vending machine operator. The Sunday Times suggests that Whitbread has already approached Milestone Capital, a private equity group that has a controlling stake in the business. Founded in 1999, Coffee Nation specialises in self-service coffee. Its machines are in offices, colleges and motorway service areas. It has national contracts with a number of retailers including Esso, Moto, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Welcome Break. If the group, which also owns the Premier Inn budget hotel business and a clutch of pub-restaurants brands such as Beefeater and Brewers Fayre, pursues a deal, it would mark the first strategic move by Andy Harrison, the new chief executive. Analysts believe Coffee Nation could make an attractive acquisition for Whitbread, taking the Costa brand into new markets. Costa Coffee is experiencing strong growth. In a trading update in December, Whitbread said like-for-like sales at the coffee chain were up 11% for the 13 weeks to December 2. Milestone acquired its stake in Coffee Nation nearly three years ago from Primary Capital, a rival buyout group that used to own YO! Sushi. The Sunday Times suggests that a deal could be worth as much as £70m.