Lion buys 10 per cent stake in Warrnambool

Lion’s parent Kirin wants to block a takeover of Warrnambool Cheese and Butter by Canada's Saputo.

Japan's Kirin Holdings Ltd’s food and beverage unit, Lion, has bought a 10 per cent stake in Warrnambool Cheese and Butter Factory Ltd.’s from fund managers today to try and block Saputo Inc’s attempt to take over the Victorian dairy maker as it relies on a supply of Coon cheese, made by Warrnambool, to sell to south-east Asian customers.

Warrnambool shares surged as much as 94 cents, or 11 per cent, to $9.30 today before closing at $8.80.

Lion declined comment. Fund managers who sold the stock to Lion received assurances from the company that it was not interested in acquiring Warrnambool, but in accumulating a stake to hinder any rival taking over an important supplier without its consent.

Bega Cheese Ltd and Murray Goulburn Co-operative Ltd together have a 35 per cent stake in Warrnambool. Lion’s 10 per cent stake would bring the shareholding of three major dairy producers to about 45 per cent.

That may effectively block Saputo, which has made an $8-a-share offer for Warrnambool - conditional on 50.1 per cent acceptance.

Murray Goulburn and Bega are rivals to Saputo in the Warrnambool takeover battle.