The London-based Apax Investment Fund has won the hotly contested bidding war to become a partner in the Tnuva, paying US$1.04bn to gain majority control of Israel's largest food manufacturer and distributor, the cooperative revealed yesterday (20 November).

Apax, which manages assets of $20bn, has taken at least a 51% stake in the Israeli food group.

Four other investment groups competed for control of the company. Trade sources in Tel Aviv have suggested that one of the other bidders, Markstone Capital Partners Group, may join with a group of dairy farmers to submit "a better offer" to the general council of Tnuva, which must still formally approve the deal before it is completed.

Tnuva said its management and operational structure will not change "in the foreseeable future" and the price Tnuva pays for milk will not change for the next 12 years.

Tnuva commented that adding a strategic partner will help it achieve its aim to become a multinational company. Tnuva has built a modern dairy facility in Romania and has plans to build dairies in Ukraine, Bulgaria Russia and India.