China's Bright Food to buy Australian dairy firm Mundella

SHANGHAI Tue Jan 14, 2014 12:33am EST

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SHANGHAI (Reuters) - China's Bright Food (Group) Co Ltd said it had agreed to buy Australian dairy company Mundella Foods through its Australian subsidiary, expanding the state-owned conglomerate's overseas reach and boosting its exposure to the growing dairy market.

Manassen Foods, the Australian company that Bright Food bought in 2011, has signed an agreement to buy Western Australia's Mundella, Bright Food spokesman Pan Jianjun said on Tuesday.

The terms of the deal have been decided but the transaction value will be finalized once Mundella's 2013 financial results are available, Pan said.

Interest in Australian dairy assets has grown due to surging sales in Asia of both traditional products such as milk and cheese and for high-tech nutraceuticals and probiotics.

A takeover battle for the country's oldest dairy producer, Warrnambool Cheese and Butter Factory Holdings Co (WCB.AX), has been one of the most hotly contested in recent months, as Canada's Saputo Inc (SAP.TO) attempts to outbid local dairy companies Murray Goulburn Co-operative Co Ltd and Bega Cheese Ltd (BGA.AX).

Saputo's A$515 million offer is steadily gathering support as Murray Goulburn's rival A$530 million bid awaits regulatory approval.

Mundella representatives were not immediately available for comment on the Bright Food deal.

Established as a family business in 1974, Mundella produces soft cheese, yoghurt and probiotic yoghurt drinks. It began exporting to Asia in 2010 and has a contract for sour cream with Wesfarmers Ltd's (WES.AX) Australian supermarket chain Coles.

Bright Food's overseas expansion has seen it buy Manassen, which supplies food brands to Australian retailers, and New Zealand's Synlait Milk Ltd (SML.NZ). It is also in talks with Tnuva, Israel's biggest food manufacturer and distributor.

Bright Food owns four mainland-listed companies including Shanghai Jinfeng Wine Co (600616.SS), Shanghai Haibo Co (600708.SS), Shanghai Maling Aquarius Co (600073.SS) and Bright Dairy & Food Co (600597.SS).

(Reporting by David Lin and Kazunori Takada in SHANGHAI, and Maggie Lu Yueyang and Jane Wardell in SYDNEY; Editing by Stephen Coates)

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