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October 14, 2010

FRANCE: Private-equity, Grupo Lala, Mengniu “eye Yoplait”

The list of potential suitors for Yoplait grew today (14 October) with a clutch of private-equity firms Mexican food maker Grupo Lala and China's Mengniu Dairy all linked to the French yoghurt maker.

By Dean Best

The list of potential suitors for Yoplait grew today (14 October) with a clutch of private-equity firms, Mexican food maker Grupo Lala and China’s Mengniu Dairy all linked to the French yoghurt maker.

Bloomberg cited Grupo Lala, Mengniu and four private-equity firms – KKR, BC Partners, Lion Capital and AXA’s buyout arm – as companies mulling whether to bid for the 50% of Yoplait owned by PAI Partners.

The report said KKR is considering whether to bid for the stake with Mengniu, the latest Chinese firm to be linked with a household brand in the West following reports of Bright Food’s talks to buy United Biscuits.

KKR and Mengniu could not be reached for comment as just-food went to press. BC Partners failed to return a request for comment.

Lion Capital, the owner of frozen-food firm Findus and cereal maker Weetabix, refused to be drawn on the report. “[Lion] just does not comment on rumour or speculation,” an official close to the private-equity firm said.

The report from Bloomberg follows claims that French dairy giant Lactalis could be interested in Yoplait.

Speaking to just-food yesterday, a spokesman for Lactalis said the company’s former chairman Michel Leonard had indicated last year that the group could be interested in Yoplait. However, the spokesman refused to be drawn further on the issue.

PAI Partners is said to have hired banks to manage the sale of its stake in Yoplait. The yoghurt maker’s other shareholder, French dairy co-operative Sodiaal, has said it wants to hold on to at least part of its shares.

General Mills has been named as another potential suitor although the US food giant, which has held the licence for Yoplait across the Atlantic since 1977, has so far declined to comment.

The company is in a dispute over its Yoplait licence after Sodima, Sodiaal’s licencing arm, said it wanted to end the agreement between the two sides.

General Mills has filed for arbitration and the company’s chairman and CEO Ken Powell has warned that the process could “take months, if not years”. Discussions between the two sides over the licence are ongoing.

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