Reuters – China’s Bright Food Buys 60% of Weetabix

(Reuters) – China’s state-owned Bright Food Group has agreed to buy a 60% stake in British cereal firm Weetabix Food Co. from private equity firm Lion Capital, which, if completed, would be its second successful overseas acquisition in less than a year.

The deal, which gives Weetabix an enterprise value of 1.2 billion pounds ($1.94 billion), is expected to close in the second half of 2012 and is subject to Chinese regulatory approval, Bright said in a statement on Thursday. Enterprise value includes the debt of a company.

Bright Food Group did not disclose the equity value of the deal but said it was the largest overseas acquisition made by any Chinese food company.

Lion Capital and Weetabix’s management will own the remaining 40 percent stake, Bright Food said in an emailed statement. Rothschild Group and Linklaters advised Bright Food in the transaction.

Bright Food has sought to boost its profile and cater to a rapidly growing domestic market through overseas acquisitions, but it has failed to buy Australian firm CSR’s sugar business and French yoghurt maker Yoplait.

Last August, Bright Foods agreed to buy a 75 percent stake in Australian branded food business Manassen Foods. . In 2010, its unit bought a majority stake in New Zealand’s Synlait Milk Ltd.

Bright Food, which makes “White Rabbit” candy, was also reportedly in talks to buy U.S. nutritional retailer GNC and Britain’s United Biscuits, but talks fell apart over pricing, terms and uncertainty over regulatory approval.

“As China’s leading food group, we are pleased to become the controlling shareholder of Weetabix,” Bright Food chairman Wang Zhongnan said in the statement. “Weetabix has an excellent product portfolio, including leading British cereal brand Weetabix and other category-leading brands,” he said.

Bright Food executives have said the company is targeting overseas wine, sugar and dairy assets.

Bright Food has four subsidiaries listed on the Shanghai Stock Exchange: Shanghai Jinfeng Wine Co, Shanghai Haibo Co, Shanghai Maling Aquarius Co and Bright Dairy & Food Co.