General Mills in Negotiations for 50% Yoplait Stake

The manufacturing giant appears poised to beat out out eight other bidders and plans to partner with Sodiaal, which owns the remaining 50 percent stake, to expand and grow the yogurt brand in various markets around the world.

General Mills said that it has entered into “exclusive negotiations” to buy a 50 percent stake in well-known yogurt manufacturer Yoplait-a move that would end a bidding war and much speculation about which of several large food companies would be the chosen buyer.

The Golden Valley-based manufacturer said that it has offered to pay 810 million euros (or $1.14 billion) to buy the stake from Paris-based private equity group PAI Partners. The offer includes a controlling interest in the operating company and a 50 percent stake in the entity that owns Yoplait and related brands.

General Mills said Friday that it plans to partner with Sodiaal, a Paris-based company that owns the remaining 50 percent stake, to expand and grow the Yoplait brand in France, Europe, and around the world.

The two companies aren't strangers. General Mills has licensed the Yoplait brand since 1977 and is currently the brand's largest licensee.

Prior to the just-announced purchase agreement, General Mills was tight-lipped about the possibility of buying Yoplait. But in late February, Bloomberg reported that the company was among the leading bidders for the stake-which nine bidders were vying for.

Citing “people familiar with the process,” Bloomberg reported at the time that General Mills and Vevey, Switzerland-based NestlŽ, SA, both submitted offers valuing Yoplait at about 1.6 billion euros-roughly double the amount that General Mills plans to pay for the 50 percent stake.

Bloomberg also said in late February that China-based Bright Dairy & Food Company submitted an offer that gave Yoplait the highest value-1.7 billion euros, but there was uncertainty as to whether the company would be able to gain the necessary approval from Chinese authorities.

Some also speculated that French authorities would intervene in the bidding process in an effort to promote a France-based buyer. French dairy products company Fromageries Bel, SA, submitted a bid valuing Yoplait at about 1.2 billion euros.

Sodiaal and PAI announced in February that they would consider each bidder's plan to expand the Yoplait brand in markets where it doesn't have much of a presence-like China, India, and Latin America.

Yoplait has a 6 percent share of the world's yogurt market and is the second-largest yogurt brand.

General Mills is Minnesota's eighth-largest public company based on revenue, which totaled $14.8 billion during its most recently completed fiscal year.