Bright Food unit buys stake in NZ meat pro­ces­sor


New Zealand ap­proved on Tues­day the sale of a 50 per­cent stake in the coun­try’s largest meat pro­ces­sor, Sil­ver Fern Farms, to a unit of China’s Bright Food Group, en­hanc­ing the South Is­land-based com­pany’s ac­cess into the Chi­nese mar­ket.

The ap­proval of the NZ$261 mil­lion ($191 mil­lion) deal is an en­cour­ag­ing out­come for Chi­nese in­vestors, fol­low­ing a high-pro­file re­jec­tion and com­plaints over the slow ap­proval process.

The Dunedin-based com­pany had voted in Oc­to­ber to al­low Shanghai Mal­ing Aquarius Co, a unit of State-owned en­ter­prise Bright Food, to take a half-share in the firm and ap­plied for ap­proval from for­eign in­vest­ment reg­u­la­tors the same month.

Min­is­ter for Land In­for­ma­tion Louise Up­ston, who ap­proved the deal after it re­ceived the goa­head from the Over­seas In­vest­ment Of­fice, said in a state­ment it would “put the com­pany in a bet­ter fi­nan­cial po­si­tion and al­low it to in­crease its ex­ports”.

Sil­ver Fern Farms Chair­man Rob He­witt said the cap­i­tal in­vested would al­low the com­pany to de­velop its brand and strat­egy.

The com­pany is par­tic­u­larly fo­cused on the China mar­ket, their big­gest by vol­ume, and can take ad­van­tage of Bright Foods’ sup­ply chains and 8,000 Chi­nese su­per­mar­kets.

“It’s the fastest-grow­ing pro­tein mar­ket in the world so it’s go­ing to bring sig­nif­i­cant ben­e­fit,” He­witt said of Bright Foods’ in­volve­ment.

Chi­nese com­pa­nies have in re­cent years been at­tracted to New Zealand’s agri­cul­tural sec­tor as China seeks sources of high-qual­ity pro­tein to feed its fast-grow­ing mid­dle class. How­ever, some Chi­nese in­vestors have hit road­blocks from po­lit­i­cal op­po­si­tion to for­eign own­er­ship of do­mes­tic as­sets.

In Septem­ber 2015, the New Zealand govern­ment blocked the NZ$88 mil­lion pur­chase of a lo­cal farm by Shanghai Pengxin Group Co, de­spite the OIO ap­prov­ing the sale. The govern­ment said at the time they were not sat­is­fied there would be “sub­stan­tial ben­e­fit” to New Zealand.

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