May 3/Shanghai/Bloomberg News -- Bright Food Group Co. agreed to buy a 60% stake in British cereal maker Weetabix Ltd. from private equity firm Lion Capital LLP as part of a drive to increase overseas sales.

The deal values the maker of Ready Brek and Alpen cereals at about 1.2 billion pounds ($1.9 billion), the Chinese company said in a statement, without providing details.

Bright Food, backed by the Shanghai government, has been seeking foreign acquisitions and last year agreed to buy 75% of Australia’s Manassen Foods from Champ Private Equity. Chairman Wang Zongnan said in a February interview that he expects to make one to two overseas deals this year in the sugar, dairy, wine and casual food industries.

“It makes sense for Bright Food to take a majority stake in Weetabix, and it is in line with the company’s long time ambition to become a world class foodmaker,” Olive Xia, an analyst at Core Pacific Yamaichi in Shanghai, said. “Weetabix would benefit from Bright Food’s vast distribution network across the country.”

Bright Food, which has interests that span food and beverage, farming and retailing, lost to General Mills Inc. for a stake in French yogurt maker Yoplait last year and was outbid by Wilmar International Ltd. for CSR Ltd.’s sugar unit, Australia’s largest producer in 2010.

The Chinese company and its subsidiaries make candy, dairy products, alcohol, canned meats and operate a taxi company in Shanghai. The company doesn’t currently make cereal and will expand the Weetabix brands in China and overseas, spokesman Pan Jianjun said.

“We’ll be focusing on bringing Weetabix’s products to the rest of the world,” Wang said in the statement.

Weetabix, which was founded in 1932, currently employs about 2,000 people and sells its products in more than 80 countries, according to its website. In 2004, a unit of Lion Capital, a London-based private-equity firm focused on consumer brands, acquired all of the issued share capital of Weetabix, the website shows.

Lion Capital, which manages a 1.5 billion euro ($2 billion) fund, this week entered into exclusive talks to buy French eyeglass retailer Alain Afflelou for about 800 million euros.

Weetabix chief executive officer Giles Turrell said, in a separate statement, there are “substantial opportunities to further grow the business internationally, in North America, Asia and beyond.” In 2010, the British company’s share of the breakfast cereals market was 1.8% worldwide and 9.6% in Hong Kong and China, according to data from Euromonitor International.

Shanghai-based Bright Food plans to increase sales from outside China to as much as 30% of revenue in five years from 5%, Wang said in an interview last year.

 From the May 3, 2012, Prepared Foods’ Daily News