WARRNAMBOOL Cheese and Butter chief David Lord did not get his Christmas wish, with the takeover battle for his company failing to finish in 2013.
The cheese war looks set to heat up this year as former bidder Bega Cheese seeks the best possible price for its stake, and speculation mounts that a Chinese bidder will enter the fray.
WCB, the fourth-largest dairy processor, collecting 900million litres of milk a year, has been the subject of a three-way takeover battle between Bega Cheese, Canada's Saputo and Australia's biggest dairy exporter, Murray Goulburn.
The bidding war has pushed WCB's market value from $200million to $520million as dairy players jostle for position to capitalise on soaring Asian demand.
Bega Cheese kicked off the wheeling and dealing with its cash-and-scrip bid (worth $5.78 at the time) in September.
Saputo is offering an unconditional $9 a share in cash plus 20¢ a share each time Saputo passes acceptance hurdles of 50.1 per cent, 75 per cent and 90 per cent.
The Montreal-based dairy company's offer has the backing of WCB's board.
Murray Goulburn has an offer of $9.50 cash on the table, conditional on getting 50.1 per cent of WCB and regulatory approval from the Australian Competition Tribunal.
Bega is now out of the race after letting its offer of $2 cash and 1.5 Bega shares close on December 20.
According to its latest substantial shareholder filing, Bega is the largest single shareholder in WCB, with an 18.8 per cent stake.
Murray Goulburn and Saputo, which have respective WCB shareholdings of 17.7 per cent and 17.9 per cent, will be scrambling to sweet talk Bega's Barry Irvin about his stake, but rumours of another bidder wading into the takeover battle mean Bega could be better off waiting.
Media reports last week said China Investment Corporation is backing a Chinese food group that is looking to acquire WCB.
Demand for dairy products in China is outstripping supply and domestic production growth.
Any Chinese bidder would have to contend with the crowded WCB register. Alongside Bega, Murray Goulburn and Saputo, Lion - a subsidiary of Japanese food and beverages company Kirin - is the fourth strategic investor, with 10 per cent.