* Treasury Wine, Bright Food deny they are in talks
* Treasury Wine rejected $2.9 bln KKR bid three days ago
* Bright Food struck deal for control of Israel’s Tnuva this week (Recasts and adds analyst comments)
By Byron Kaye
SYDNEY, May 23 (Reuters) - Australia’s Treasury Wine Estates Ltd, the world’s No. 2 wine company, denied it was talks to be acquired by China’s Bright Food Group Co Ltd , the latest potential suitor named in a string of media reports that have sent its share price surging.
Bright Food also denied the report of talks by the Australian Financial Review, which comes just three days after Treasury Wine rejected a A$3.1 billion ($2.9 billion) takeover bid from U.S. private equity firm KKR & Co.
Treasury Wine, spun off from Fosters Group Ltd in 2011, has been considered a takeover target since late 2013 when it slashed earnings forecasts, ousted its CEO and revealed that its U.S. arm was forced to destroy wine because of oversupply.
Its portfolio, which includes the Beringer and high-end Penfolds labels, makes it especially attractive for companies hoping to capitalise on growing demand for luxury goods in Asia as the region’s middle class expands.
Earlier this month, the Australian firm denied French liquor giant Pernod Ricard SA and U.S. wine behemoth Constellation Brands had made separate approaches for its U.S. business.
Treasury Wine’s shares have jumped since it disclosed the KKR bid, and on Friday the stock was trading at A$5.21 as of 05.00 GMT, up 5.5 percent and a 10 percent premium to the KKR offer.
“Given that there’s other potential buyers out there that may have a lower cost of capital (than KKR), I guess it’s not inconceivable that someone comes out with a higher bid and that’s what’s got the market excited,” said Morningstar analyst Daniel Mueller.
A Treasury Wine spokesman said there were no discussions between Treasury Wine and Bright Food. A Shanghai-based Bright Food spokesman said the company had no plans to buy Treasury Wine or other wine makers in Australia.
Bright Food just struck a deal on Thursday to buy a 56 percent stake in Israel’s largest food company, dairy firm Tnuva, from private equity house Apax in a deal estimated to value the company at about $2.5 billion.
Others noted that Bright Food does not have that much experience with the wine market.
“Bright are more a grocery-based company rather than an alcoholic beverages-based company - it’s what they know and what they do. I would suggest it would be unlikely,” said Evan Lucas, market strategist at IG.
“However, the Chinese do look for good assets where they can find it. It doesn’t matter what it’s in, they’ll look at snapping it up.”
In January it bought Western Australian yoghurt and cheese producer Mundella Foods for an undisclosed sum.
In 2011, it paid A$530 million for a 75 per cent stake in Australian food supplier Manassen. In 2012, it bought 60 percent of British cereal maker Weetabix for £1.2 billion and four years ago picked up a 51 per cent stake in New Zealand dairy producer Synlait for $US58 million.
$1 = 1.0828 Australian Dollars Additional reporting by Thuy Ong in Sydney and David Lin in Shanghai; Editing by Edwina Gibbs