Economic review

Bright to sell most of Weetabix stake

2017-04-19 09:54:00 (Beijing Time)         China Daily

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Shanghai-based food conglomerate Bright Food Group Co has confirmed it will sell the majority of its stake in UK cereal brand Weetabix to U.S. cereal company Post Holdings, the group's spokesman told China Daily on Tuesday.

The sale is projected to be worth $1.76 billion, according to Reuters. Bright Food will remain as a stakeholder in the brand and continue to help it expand in the Chinese market, according to the company.

"The move will help Bright Food better leverage its financial and human resources for its globalization strategy," said Pan Jianjun, spokesman for the State-owned conglomerate, which has made several acquisitions globally in recent years.

Bright Food acquired a 60 percent stake in private equity firm Lion Capital in 2012 for 1.2 billion pounds ($1.51 billion), making it the largest overseas deal made by a Chinese company in the food and beverage sector worldwide back then.

Weetabix's overall sales declined by 1.6 percent to 346 million pounds by the end of 2015, according to the company's latest financial statements. The UK market accounted for more than 80 percent of its sales.

Pan denied that the sale was due to the stagnant performance of the brand, adding that China has become the third-largest market for Weetabix in the five years since the acquisition.

Statistics from Nielsen showed that sales of ready-to-eat cereals dropped at a combined annual growth rate of 1.5 percent from 2009 to 2014, while sales of overall breakfast foods are growing.

Loris Li, senior food and beverage analyst with UK consultancy Mintel, said that for cereals, it's more a challenge of the deeply rooted culinary habits. Among Chinese consumers aged from 20 to 49 and interviewed by the consultancy in 2016, 67 percent opted Chinese traditional breakfasts like noodles or dumplings instead of Western foods. But a popular TV series featuring an Australian cereal brand named Weetbix (rebranded as Nutribrex this year) had boosted sales of the brand by 50 percent last year.

Kellogg, the world's largest cereal company, has made three attempts to gain market share in China since 1993, either by itself or through joint ventures.