Goubuli in talks to buy US coffee chain
Celine Sun in Beijing and Ray Chan
Goubuli Group, the best-known stuffed-bun maker on the mainland, said the American coffee chain it is going to buy would be positioned differently from potential rival Starbucks in the country, though both firms will be in the same specialty coffee market battling for customers.
The move by Goubuli comes hard on the heels of news that other Chinese companies are mounting bids for US firms, including tycoon Chen Guangbiao's interest in acquiring The New York Times.
A Goubuli spokeswoman confirmed yesterday its negotiation with the American company had entered the final stage and the deal was expected to close in the first half of this year.
She did not name the company but said the coffee house had hundreds of outlets in more than 40 countries.
"After acquiring it, we will help the brand open more shops in China," she said.
Starbucks is the world's biggest coffee retailer, worth more than HK$440 billion and selling coffee, tea and pastries in 19,000 stores and retail outlets.
The Goubuli spokeswoman said the brand might not compete directly with Starbucks, the most successful overseas coffee brand on the mainland, as it might adopt a different positioning to target the lower-end market.
In addition to coffee, the company is also considering to offer local snacks and drinks in shops.
Zhang Yansen, Goubuli's chairman, was quoted by Xinhua as saying that the firm was seeking to use the coffee chain's business network to promote high-quality Chinese cuisine overseas.
Goubuli, which started 156 years ago in a small stuffed-bun shop in Tianjin, has grown into a top catering brand on the mainland. It currently operates more than 30 high-end restaurants across the country and is also involved in the food-processing, logistics and training industries.
The firm forged a partnership with Singapore-based Tee Yih Jia in October 2013 to sell Goubuli products in more than 50 cities in Asia-Pacific.
Chinese acquisitions of foreign firms hit a record last year, supported by a buying spree of food and beverage assets and overseas commercial properties. The country's outbound merger and acquisition volume rose 13 per cent year on year to US$68.7 billion in 2013, Dealogic said.
Chinese interest in US assets remained strong in 2014 because of Beijing's aggressive economic reforms and a more liberal policy environment for outbound investors, said Rhodium Group, a New York-based consulting firm that tracks the country's outward investment.
Notably, China's largest meat processor Shuanghui International struck a US$7.1 billion deal to acquire Smithfield Foods, making it the biggest Chinese takeover of a US company.