THE competition regulator yesterday on Thursday a takeover bid by Bega Cheese in the hotly contested battle over dairy maker Warrnambool Cheese and Butter.
The approval by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission gives Bega a leg-up in the three-way fight to control the company.
Meanwhile, another international player has entered the fray, adding complexity to bids for full ownership of the Victorian dairy processor.
On Tuesday, Japanese food and beverage company Kirin through its Australian subsidiary Lion bought a 9.99 per cent stake in WCB.
In September, Bega Cheese launched a takeover bid of WCB in an offer that combined cash and a share swap.
Canadian company Saputo made a cash offer later that month and in October Victorian dairy company Murray Goulburn also made a cash offer.
The WCB board has recommended shareholders accept the Saputo bid.
Bega Cheese executive chairman Barry Irvin believes “time is on our side” and has reserved the company’s right to revise its bid (BDN 18/10).
The price of WCB shares has doubled since Bega Cheese announced its bid in September; Lion paid between $9.25 and $8.30 for its parcel of shares.
WCB produces the Coon and Cracker Barrel cheese brands for Lion.
“Lion has enjoyed a close relationship with WCB over many years and WCB plays an important role in Lion's cheese business,” a Lion spokesperson said.
“Lion considers this stake a continuation and strengthening of this relationship.”
Saputo's bid is conditional on it gaining 50.1 per cent of WCB, however between them Bega Cheese, Murray Goulburn and Lion now own 46 per cent of the company and they may make it difficult for their Canadian rival to succeed.