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March 4, 2011

FRANCE: PAI searches for “right” Yoplait partner for Sodiaal

Private-equity firm PAI Partners, which is in talks to sell its half of Yoplait, has said it wants to find the "right partner" for Sodiaal, the French dairy co-op that plans to keep its stake in the yoghurt business.

By Dean Best

Private-equity firm PAI Partners, which is in talks to sell its half of Yoplait, has said it wants to find the “right partner” for Sodiaal, the French dairy co-op that plans to keep its stake in the yoghurt business.

PAI has received nine offers for its 50% stake in Yoplait and, while the buyout house has refused to name the identity of the bidders, reports have linked the likes of Nestle, General Mills and Lactalis to the race. There were also reports this week that claimed China’s Bright Food had tabled the highest bid.

Speaking to just-food today (4 March), a spokesman confirmed that PAI had decided two weeks ago not to whittle down the list of bidders and instead continue talks with all those that had made an offer.

The spokesman also revealed that PAI now expected to announce the name of the successful bidder “in the second half of March”. The spokesperson explained that was “a little sooner” than PAI had anticipated, which, he said was due to the seriousness of the bids.

“When we launched the process we did not expect to have such serious proposals,” the spokesman said. “What they have offered is very, very serious and significant in terms of pricing [and] strategic plans.”

The PAI spokesman refused to reveal how much the bidders had tabled for its stake but indicated that the private-equity firm was happy with the value of the offers. “As far as the level of price is concerned, we are very satisfied,” he said.

The “key” question that PAI now had to consider was which of the bidders Sodiaal would be willing to work with, the spokesman continued. Sodiaal has said it wants to remain a long-term shareholder in Yoplait and, in November, the co-op and PAI turned down a EUR1.4bn (US$1.96bn) bid from Lactalis for the whole business.

“It’s no longer a financial issue; it’s a human issue,” the PAI spokesman said. The private-equity firm, he said, wanted to find the “right partner” for Sodiaal. “That’s why we have no interest in cutting the list.”

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