Freshfields leads as China's Bright Food takes majority stake in Israeli cheese maker

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer has advised China’s Bright Food Group on its acquisition of a majority share in Israel’s largest food company, Tnuva, for close to $1bn.

The transaction, which saw Bright Food take a 56% stake in Tnuva – valued at approximately $2.5bn as a whole – from private equity house Apax, is one of several steps by the state-owned food company to acquire brands from overseas.

Other recent acquisitions include New Zealand dairy maker Synlait in 2010, Australia’s Manassen Foods in 2011 – producer of Bovril and Ryvita – and the UK’s Weetabix in 2012.

Previous reports also document Bright Food’s attempts to buy French yoghurt maker Yoplait and UK-headquartered United Biscuits, which owns brands such as Twiglets, McVitie’s biscuits and Jacob’s Cream Crackers.

Leading a team for Freshfields on the deal was China-based corporate partner Alan Wang, who splits his time between the firm’s Shanghai and Beijing offices focusing on cross border deals by Chinese companies, both inbound and outbound.

The magic circle firm pitched for the deal last Autumn, with rival Linklaters also in the running after previously advising Weetabix on the Bright Food purchase.

Israeli outfit Herzog Fox & Neeman acted for Apax, while Tnuva did not appoint external counsel.

Freshfields’ China corporate group has advised a number of multinationals on their investments within the country, including the likes of Tesco, B&Q and KFC owner, Yum!

In June last year it also represented Dalian Wanda Group on its purchase of UK luxury yacht company Sunseeker International and a hotel development site in London, for a combined value of £1bn.

Bright Food is one of China’s largest food manufacturers, and among a string of Chinese companies in this and other sectors currently looking to tap international markets for technology, new products and additional revenues.

Tnuva, which manufactures a wide range of cheeses, milk, yoghurt, meat and eggs, is understood to be a significant add-on for Bright Food, boosting its profile in the domestic cheese and dairy markets.

In recent years, global law firms with offices in Hong Kong have been pushing to get a bigger slice of the Chinese outbound investment market, with several outfits opening offices in Beijing between 2012 and 2013 in an effort to forge closer relationships with state-owned companies.

Last May saw the largest ever overseas acquisition by a Chinese enterprise, when Henan-headquartered Shuanghui International agreed to buy US pork producer Smithfield Foods for $4.7bn (£3.1bn).

Paul Hastings and Simpson Thacher were lead advisors on the deal representing Shuanghui and Smithfield respectively, while Troutman Sanders, McGuireWoods and Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom also had supporting roles.

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