Weetabix Owner Is Prepared to Spend $1.6 Billion on Deals

Bright Food Group Co., the Chinese owner of British cereal maker Weetabix Ltd., said it is seeking acquisitions and has the ability to pay as much as 10 billion yuan ($1.60 billion) for a target.

Bright Food is open to buying domestic and overseas companies and it isn’t interested in deals that are “too small” and prefers to work on one acquisition at a time, Chairman Lv Yongjie said in an interview on June 18, without providing further details. The company is also preparing an initial public offering for its Australian unit Manassen Foods, he said.

Bright Food has joined Chinese companies including WH Group Ltd., Fosun International Ltd. (656) and Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. in pursuing assets overseas. The Shanghai-based company, which has interests that span food and beverages, farming and retailing, bought Israel’s Tnuva Food Industries Ltd. last month following Weetabix, as rising incomes in China spur demand for consumer goods.

“Chinese food firms seek overseas deals to acquire product research capabilities and better resources,” said Todd Yang, Shenzhen-based analyst at Guosen Securities Co. (GUOSNZ) “Imported foods are also growing in popularity in China and they may also be seeking foreign food brands to address the trend.”

Bright Food, which controls Shanghai-listed Bright Dairy & Food Co., reached a preliminary agreement last month with private-equity firm Apax Partners LLP to buy its 56 percent in Tnuva for about $960 million, according to a person with knowledge of the matter. The Israeli company is the country’s largest food manufacturer and distributor.

Mivtach Shamir Holdings Ltd. (MISH), Tnuva’s second-largest shareholder with 21 percent, has said it is in talks to sell its holding to the Chinese company.

Bright Dairy shares rose 2 percent to 16.22 yuan in Shanghai trading today, the biggest gain since May 22.

Manassen IPO

Bright Food, which aims to develop into an international company, would consider acquisition targets with goods that can be sold in China and which would allow it to expand its products in their home market, Lv said. They must also be suitable for a future IPO, the chairman added.

The group, established from the merger of four state-owned companies in 2006, has begun preparing to list its Australian unit Manassen Foods overseas and it hasn’t decided on the IPO size of the maker of Albatros bread and Harringtons chocolates, Lv said.

The share sale could give Bright Food additional financial resources to expand the unit and help fund future buyouts, Guosen’s Yang said.

Jelly Beans

The Chinese company paid A$400 million, or about $416 million, for 75 percent of Manassen Foods in 2011, according to two people familiar with the deal then. That gave the Australian company an enterprise value of A$530 million, the people said.

Manassen Foods, whose founder started out selling sardines and olive oil in Sydney in 1952, currently employs more than 350 people and has businesses in sectors ranging from biscuits to frozen foods. The company also distributes brands such as Jelly Belly jelly beans and Castello Cheese in Australia.

Bright Food, whose domestic brands include White Rabbit candy, has retail outlets across China and also operates tea, dairy and rice farms. It sells fresh milk, yogurt and baby formula in China.

To contact Bloomberg News staff for this story: Peter Elstrom in New York at pelstrom@bloomberg.net; Liza Lin in Shanghai at llin15@bloomberg.net; Alexandra Ho in Shanghai at aho113@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Turk at gturk2@bloomberg.net; Stephanie Wong at swong139@bloomberg.net Stephanie Wong

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