Kraft to take Danone biscuit?

More action from French yogurt colossus Danone, with the news that it's in exclusive talks over the sale of its biscuits business - owners of the Tuc, Pepito and Ourson brands among others - to Kraft Foods of the US. If it comes off, the deal could be worth around 5.3Bn Euros. That's a lot of crackers.

Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012

For a business which is now a market leader in so-called ‘healthy' and ‘active' foods, offloading its biscuits division seems like a no-brainer. But the Paris press conference at which the talks were announced punched well above its weight as far as entertainment value goes, thanks largely to the contrasting styles of the two respective CEOs.

It was a Home kick-off. Asked whether he was worried about a possible private equity bid for Danone should the deal go through, Danone's Franck Riboud - MT's favourite cross-channel boss and a sort of Jose Mourinho of the corporate premier league - was dismissive. The important thing, he said, is not whether you are a bid target or not, but rather to do what's best for the business. Or in his own words - you'll have to provide the accent and accompanying Gallic shrug yourselves - ‘I don't wake up every morning thinking what I should do not to be bought. I think about my business and my employees.' So ner-nerny-ner-ner to you, Carlyle, Permira, KKR et al.

For its part, Kraft seems to be an eager suitor, with CEO Irene Rosenfeld saying in rather more measured terms that she believed the deal would be a good one for both parties, and that there was ‘tremendous attractiveness' in the Danone biscuits branch.

In good Fawlty Towers style, both sides managed to avoid mentioning the war. But that any deal will not be without its cross-cultural issues soon became clear; here's Riboud explaining his desire to probe Kraft's good intentions in characteristically robust style. ‘As a good French person, I wanted to touch and feel Irene. Although in the US you can be put in jail for that.' Indeed, Franck, writs have been issued over much, much less.

For students of cultural irony the news contains one final gem of modern global mores. One of Danone's less well-known local snack properties - in their Russian territory, where else - is a brand of biscuits glorying in the name of Bolshevik (strapline ‘Uncle Joe's favourite', no doubt). Hardly a big seller in the new Russia one would imagine, but is it likely to do any better under American ownership..?

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