PAI Expects New Bids for 50% Yoplait Stake

Paris-based private equity firm PAI Partners is expecting offers to buy its 50% stake in Yoplait, Reuters reported. One offer, an unsolicited $1.9 billion bid from European dairy group Lactalis, was rejected last week as too low, and because it would have forced out French shareholder Sodiaal, Reuters said. Possible new bidders for the stake could include Nestle and General Mills.

(Reuters) – French private equity fund PAI Partners expects to receive offers to buy its 50 percent stake in French yoghurt maker Yoplait in December, a source close to the matter told Reuters on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Lactalis, Europe’s largest dairy group, whose unsolicited 1.4 billion euro ($1.9 billion) bid for the whole of Yoplait was rejected last week, still planned to participate in the sale but within the framework defined by Yoplait owners, a Lactalis spokesman said.

Yoplait owners rejected Lactalis’s offer as too low and because it would force out the other Yoplait shareholder, French dairy cooperative Sodiaal. [ID:nLDE6AH1UO]

Yoplait, the world’s second-largest dairy group after Danone (DANO.PA), has been in the spotlight since the summer when PAI Partners said it wanted to sell its stake.

Lactalis had said its offer, made on Nov. 16, was the best way to insure Yoplait remained in French hands. [ID:nLDE6AGO59]

Apart from Lactalis, the sale could draw interest from food companies such as Nestle (NESN.VX), General Mills (GIS.N) which distributes Yoplait in the United States, China’s Bright Food Group, Mexico’s Grupo Lala, and private equity groups.

Yoplait owners are, however, believed to prefer an international partner. Chief executive Lucien Fa told Reuters this month that Yoplait, which he valued at 1.5 billion euros, needed an investor with the firepower to speed its international expansion, notably in emerging markets [ID:nLDE6A71G3].

Fa went further over the weekend, telling Swiss paper Le Matin Dimanche that Nestle was the ideal match for Yoplait as it fitted “in terms of corporate profile” and has “the money, structures and people”.

A spokesman for PAI Partners, which has said it expected to complete the sale by the end of March, told Reuters on Tuesday that “several other groups” also met these criteria.

Nestle, which has plenty of firepower after the sale of its stake in eyecare group Alcon (ACL.N), was not available to comment.

(Reporting by Dominique Vidalon; Additional reporting by Silke Koltrowitz in Zurich; Editing by Dan Lalor)