Bright Food eyes UK's United Biscuits

By Dick Schumacher and Lars Paulsson (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-09-28 09:40
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Beijing - Bright Food Group Co, Shanghai's biggest food and dairy company, is in discussions for a possible acquisition of the United Kingdom's United Biscuits from Blackstone Group and PAI Partners.

Bright Food eyes UK's United Biscuits

Milk produced by Bright Food is displayed for sale on shelves at a supermarket in Shanghai. [Photo/Agencies]

The Sunday Times on Sunday reported that Bright Food is in exclusive talks to buy United Biscuits, the maker of Jaffa Cake and McVitie's cookies, in a transaction that may be valued at 2 billion pounds ($3.2 billion).

"Bright Food is now in talks about buying United Biscuits," Chen Chunshan, a company spokesman in Shanghai, said in a phone interview on Sunday, declining to comment further.

The Chinese company is seeking acquisitions abroad as its chairman Wang Zongnan aims to build it into a leader in the nation's food industry.

In July, Bright Food failed to buy CSR Ltd's Australian sugar unit, beaten to the $1.5 billion acquisition by Wilmar International Ltd. Its Bright Dairy & Food Co unit won regulatory approval on Sunday from New Zealand to buy a 51 percent stake in Synlait Milk Ltd, a processing company converting more than 300 million liters of milk a year.

The Synlait deal is still waiting for approval from the Shanghai government, according to a statement.

Bright Food affiliate Bright Dairy & Food Co has gained 2.9 percent this year compared with a 21 percent decline for the benchmark Shanghai Composite Index.

Phone calls on Sunday to United Biscuit's head office in Hayes outside London and its business center in Liverpool went unanswered.

Deal advisers

Peter Rose, a Blackstone spokesman in New York, and Natasha Baxter, a spokeswoman in London, did not immediately respond to phone messages seeking comment from Bloomberg News. Blackstone and Rothschild declined to comment, the Sunday Times reported.

Blackstone and PAI in July hired Goldman Sachs Group Inc and JPMorgan Chase & Co to prepare an auction of United Biscuits, and food companies including Campbell Soup Co and Nestle SA may be interested, the Sunday Times said, without saying where it got the information.

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Bright Food hired N.M. Rothschild & Sons Ltd as an adviser, the newspaper reported.

United Biscuits was founded in 1948 after the merger of two Scottish companies, McVitie & Price and MacFarlane Lang, and its brands are sold in more than 100 countries.

Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization rose 14 percent last year to 223.24 million pounds on sales of 1.26 billion pounds last year, according to its annual report.

Blackstone and PAI bought the company in 2006 for $3 billion.

Bright Food, established in August 2006, is partly owned by the Shanghai municipal government and Shanghai DaSheng Holdings Co. It has registered capital of 3.43 billion yuan ($512 million), according to information on its website.

Its businesses include farming and fisheries, food processing, wholesaling, logistics and retailing as well as real estate and taxi services.

Bright Dairy boosted this year's first-half net income 35 percent from a year earlier to 61 million yuan, it said on Aug 27.

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