Coca-Cola Offers to Buy Huiyuan in $2.5B Deal

HONG KONG - The Coca-Cola Co., the world's biggest beverage company, moved to expand its operations in the fast-growing Chinese market Wednesday with a $2.5 billion bid for major juicemaker China Huiyuan Juice Group Ltd.

Under the deal, Coca-Cola's wholly-owned subsidiary Atlantic Industries would purchase the Chinese company's shares for 12.20 Hong Kong dollars ($1.56) each, almost triple their last closing price, the companies said in a joint statement to the Hong Kong stock exchange. That would value the Beijing-based juice producer at around HK$17.9 billion ($2.3 billion).

Coca-Cola also offered to pay for all outstanding convertible bonds and options, bringing the total amount of the deal to as much as HK$19.6 billion (around $2.51 billion).

According to research firm Dealogic, it is the largest-ever deal in China's food and beverage industry.

If approved by regulators, the acquisition would mark Coca-Cola's biggest in China since it began operating in the country in 1979 and increase its share in the beverage market.

Huiyuan is China's leading maker of pure fruit juices and nectars with about 31 production facilities.

"This acquisition will deliver value to our shareholders and provide a unique opportunity to strengthen our business in China," Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent said.

In particular, the U.S. company would bring a sprawling distribution and supply network along with management and strategies that could help develop Huiyuan's brand.

"There are anticipated synergies that will drive operational and cost efficiencies, particularly in Huiyuan's production footprint and in The Coca-Cola Company's distribution and raw material purchasing capabilities," the companies said in their statement to the exchange.

Already, Huiyuan has secured "irrevocable undertakings" from three large shareholders, accounting for 66 percent of the company's shares, to accept the deal, the companies said.

Huiyuan shares, down more than 50 percent this year, jumped to HK$11.10 early Wednesday, suggesting investors believe the deal will go through.