Bright Food Group Co Ltd, the country's second-largest food maker, has agreed to buy a controlling stake in British cereals maker Weetabix Ltd, the biggest overseas acquisition by a Chinese company in the food and beverage sector.
The deal, which gives Weetabix an enterprise value (including the company's shares and debts) of 1.2 billion pounds ($1.94 billion), will help boost Bright Food's overseas sales to as much as 30 percent of its total within five years
The Shanghai-headquartered company will acquire 60 percent of the shares from private equity firm Lion Capital LLP, owner of Weetabix, according to a joint statement sent to China Daily.
The remaining shares will be retained by the London-based buyout company.
Bright has been in talks with Lion for half a year, and the deal is expected to be finalized by October after getting regulatory and government approval in China, company spokesman Pan Jianjun told China Daily on Thursday.
Bright is actively seeking financing for the deal and has reached preliminary agreements with domestic and foreign banks, he added.
The acquisition is "of landmark significance" to Bright, the statement said, as it "supports Bright Food's strategy of buying famous international brands, developing advanced technology and taking strong competitive positions in each of its markets".
The cooperation will also help Weetabix, the maker of Ready Brek and Alpen cereals, penetrate the Asian market based on "Bright Food's strong resources and expertise in both the Chinese and the broader international markets," said Chairman Wang Zongnan.
Weetabix, founded in 1932, makes 36 types of cereals and bars and exports to more than 80 countries, its website shows. In 2004, a unit of Lion Capital acquired all of the issued share capital of Weetabix.
Lyndon Lea, partner of Lion, said the partnership with Bright will extend the successful business into China.
The deal is Bright's latest attempt to buy a global food brand to feed China's growing middle class, which seeks higher-quality products and the convenience of processed and packaged food.
Backed by the Shanghai municipal government, the maker of dairy, sugar and wine products generated revenue of $12.2 billion in 2011 and has been seeking overseas food acquisitions over the past two years.
It has completed two overseas acquisitions, buying a controlling stake in New Zealand-based Synlait Milk Ltd for $58 million in 2010 and agreeing last year to spend $382 million for a 75 percent stake in Manassen Foods Australia Pty Ltd.
Wang said in February that he expects to make one to two overseas acquisitions this year in the sugar, dairy, wine and other food industries.
According to Ge Junjie, the company's vice-president, Bright Food will wrap up an acquisition deal with a French wine maker in two months.
Buying overseas assets may help the company make the best use of its "extremely" strong distribution network in China, said Shaun Rein, managing director of Shanghai-based China Market Research Group.
It is "a wise choice and an important step" for Bright to buy a well-established foreign brand, as it usually takes a long time to make a name in the fast-moving consumer goods sector, said Zhang Huiming, head of the Enterprise Research Institute at Shanghai-based Fudan University.
After several failed attempts in Europe, "Bright Food must have learned a lot from its seasoned rivals in terms of acquisition plans and negotiation skills," he added.