July 30, 2018 / 3:11 AM / 20 days ago

Two Chinese firms bid for NZ honey maker Manuka Health: source

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Two Chinese firms have bid for New Zealand honey maker Manuka Health, pricing the firm around $300 million, a source with direct knowledge of the sale said on Monday.

The source declined to name the firms, however the Australian Financial Review newspaper reported Beijing-based private equity investor CDH Investments was a bidder.

CDH did not immediately respond to a request for comment, nor did a spokeswoman for Auckland-based Manuka Health. A spokesman for its owner, Australian private equity firm Pacific Equity Partners, had no immediate comment.

Food and health scares in China, most recently reports of safety lapses in the production of a rabies vaccine, are driving Chinese customers and firms to scour the globe for reliable products.

CDH last month sealed a $1.4 billion takeover of Australian liver-cancer treatment maker Sirtex Medical Ltd (SRX.AX). Chinese investors have poured more than A$5.5 billion ($4 billion) into the Australian health sector since 2015, according to accountancy firm KPMG.

The spree extends to primary production, with Chinese bidders buying into Australian winemakers, acquiring farms and bidding on dairy makers. China Resources Ng Fung Ltd (0318.HK) holds the biggest single stake in Manuka Health rival Comvita Ltd (CVT.NZ).

Made from the nectar of the manuka plant which is native to New Zealand and Australia, manuka honey is prized for its antibacterial properties as much as the taste and can fetch as much as NZ$127 ($86.30) per kilogram, government figures show.

By value, New Zealand exports - a quarter of which are sent to China - hit a record NZ$329 million in 2016-17, though rapid growth stalled as poor weather hurt pollination.

In addition to the honey, Manuka Health sells honey-based skincare products as well as vitamin capsules. Second round bids for the firm are due in six weeks, the source said.

The source requested anonymity as they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Reporting by Kane Wu in HONG KONG; Additional reporting and writing by Tom Westbrook in SYDNEY; Editing by Stephen Coates

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