Australia’s National Foods has said it may bid for the Australian dairy business of troubled Italian food group Parmalat, should it be put up for sale.

Parmalat is currently struggling with serious financial problems as a failure to recover an investment left it unable to repay debts on time.

The Italian firm bought Queensland-based Pauls for A$436m (US$320m) in 1998, and then bought the licences for three key milk brands in Victoria.

“We have expressed an interest in acquiring the Australian operations should they be available,” National Foods spokesman Ian Greenshields told Reuters. 

Two other companies that might be interested in buying the business, soft drinks firm Coca-Cole Amatil and dairy cooperative Dairy Farmers, were not forthcoming about any potential bids.

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“We’re interested bystanders, but it’s a bit early yet to be getting too excited about what may or may not happen to Parmalat in Australia,” said Dairy Farmers spokesman Stuart Silver. 

“We have stated our intention to expand the range of the beverages we offer either through acquisition or greenfields, but we are not going to comment on specific opportunities,” Coca-Cola Amatil spokesman Alec Wagstaff was quoted as saying. 

New Zealand dairy giant Fonterra, which owns 18% of National Foods, also remained tight-lipped.

“We’ll continue to monitor the developments within Australia, and that’s before any review of our current position,” Fonterra spokesman Gareth Johnston told NZ Press Association.

Meanwhile, Parmalat Australia said there had been no speculation at Parmalat that the Australian business might be sold off to raise cash to repay debts. Chief executive David Lord said it was business as usual for the Australian unit, despite the financial difficulties of its parent company.

“We’re a stand alone profit centre and operate independently – it’s viable, it’s profitable,” he told Dow Jones Newswires.