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General Mills, Nestle Said to Lead in Yoplait Sale Process

General Mills, Nestle Said to Lead in Yoplait Sale Process
Containers of Yoplait yogurt are stacked on a supermarket shelf in New York. Photographer: Robert Caplin/Bloomberg

General Mills Inc. and Nestle SA are among leading bidders for the 50 percent stake in yogurt maker Yoplait being sold by PAI Partners, four people familiar with the process said.

Nestle and General Mills submitted offers valuing Yoplait at about 1.6 billion euros ($2.2 billion), one of the people said. A final bidder may be selected in the next few weeks, according to the people, who declined to be identified because the process is private. Axa Private Equity is the only remaining buyout firm in the race, three of the people said.

Yoplait shareholders Sodiaal and PAI last month said nine companies, both French and foreign, had made indicative offers for the asset. The joint owners said they would consider the bidders’ plans to expand Yoplait in markets where the brand has little or no presence, such as China, India and Latin America. Sodiaal, which founded Yoplait and owns the other half of it, doesn’t intend to sell its shares.

Bright Dairy & Food Co. submitted the highest offer, though it remains uncertain whether the Chinese company will be able to gain final approval from its authorities, one of the people said. The Shanghai-based company’s bid values Yoplait at about 1.7 billion euros, the person said.

State Intervention?

Fromageries Bel SA, a French dairy products company, made a bid that values Yoplait at around 1.2 billion euros, according to one of the people. Groupe Lactalis, a French cooperative that has a dairy joint venture with Nestle, and Mexico’s Grupo Lala SA also submitted offers. Lactalis last year had a 1.4 billion-euro bid for all of the yogurt maker rejected.

There has been speculation about whether French authorities will intervene in an attempt to promote a French buyer, one of the people said.

Nestle spokeswoman Nina Backes and General Mills spokesman Tom Forsythe declined to comment. An official at Axa Private Equity couldn’t immediately comment. Jacques Caillaud, a spokesman for Sodiaal, declined to comment.

Nestle was little changed at 52.65 Swiss francs at 9:35 a.m. in Zurich trading.

Yoplait has grown to become the world’s second-largest yogurt brand by distributing products through General Mills in the U.S. and other partners around the world. The brand has a 6 percent share of the world’s yogurt market, which expanded 46 percent in the five years through 2010 to $65.2 billion, according to Euromonitor International.

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