French dairy giant Lactalis has reiterated its interest in local peer Entremont Alliance but said it remains unclear just what the shareholders of the embattled co-operative want to do with the business.

Lactalis, the owner of cheese brands including Galbani and President, has been linked with a bid for Entremont, which is saddled with debts of over EUR370m (US$526.9m).

French dairy groups Sodiaal and Bongrain have launched a joint bid for Entremont. However, a spokesman for Lactalis said the lack of clarity around the intentions of Entremont's major shareholder, Belgian billionaire Albert Frere, has stopped the company lodging a rival offer.

"We are interested [but] we haven't made a proposal for the simple reason that we do not know the exact position of the shareholder," a Lactalis spokesman told just-food.

The spokesman declined to comment on the exact nature of Lactalis's interest in Entremont. He added that Lactalis had held discussions with Entremont but would wait until its major shareholder makes his strategy for the business clear before looking for further talks.

French trade union representatives have outlined their opposition to the prospect of Lactalis acquiring Entremont, citing regulatory issues. One union official told just-food that a deal would create a "monopoly" in the French market for emmental.

Yesterday, it emerged that the French government brokered a last-minute deal between Entremont and its suppliers on milk prices for July and August.

Given its financial difficulties, Entremont had put an offer on the table of 20.5 centimes per litre of milk, well short of the industry-wide agreement signed on 3 June, which makes provision for 27.5 centimes per litre.

Faced with the prospect of re-igniting the anger of dairy farmers on the price issue, the government succeeded in convincing Entremont's banks to inject a further EUR10m of funding, allowing the group to increase its offer to producers to 24.5 centimes/litre for July and August.