General Mills today (18 March) confirmed that it has started exclusive talks to buy into French dairy business Yoplait.

The US food giant, which has held the US licence for the Yoplait brand since 1977, said it had made a “binding offer” to Yoplait shareholders PAI Partners.

The announcement confirmed reports yesterday that General Mills was set to buy a stake in Yoplait, which has been jointly run by PAI and French dairy co-op Sodiaal since 2002.

PAI announced last summer that it wanted to quit the venture and the proposed transaction would see the private-equity firm sell its 50% stake in Yoplait in a deal that values the entire yoghurt maker at EUR1.6bn.

Under the deal with General Mills, two structures would be created – an operating company and an entity that owns the brand rights.

General Mills wants to take a controlling role in the operating company and a 50% interest in the entity that owns the Yoplait brand. Sodiaal will take a minority stake in the operating company but hold the other 50% in the trademark-owning entity.

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By GlobalData

A deal would end one of the most fiercely-contested takeover battles in the food industry in the last 12 months.

When PAI, which has held a 50% stake in Yoplait since 2002, announced it wanted to sell its shares, it led to an auction that attracted nine bidders from within the food industry and from the financial sector. In November, PAI and Sodiaal turned down a EUR1.4bn bid for the whole of Yoplait from French dairy processor Lactalis.

Sodiaal insisted that it wanted to remain a Yoplait shareholder and, this morning, General Mills said its deal would see the US firm work with the co-op to grow the business.

General Mills said: “Under the proposed transaction, General Mills will partner with Sodiaal in expanding and growing the Yoplait brand and businesses in France, Europe and around the world.”

In a joint statement, Francois Iches, president of the Sodiaal Union farmers’ co-opeartive, and Gerard Budin, president of Sodiaal International, said: “After nine years of profitable growth, a new chapter will be written for Yoplait with its longtime partner General Mills.”