Danone has sold its stake in a Chinese juice maker for €200m ($260m), less than half the amount Coca-Cola was prepared to pay in a deal that collapsed last year.

The value of Danone’s stake in Huiyuan Juice Group has fallen sharply since the Chinese government blocked Coca-Cola from taking over the country’s largest privately owned juice producer.

The French group said on Wednesday it had agreed to sell its 23 per cent stake in Huiyuan to SAIF, a Hong Kong private equity group.

Coca-Cola proposed a $2.4bn all-cash bid to buy Huiyuan two years ago in what would have been the largest foreign takeover of a Chinese company. But Beijing rejected the deal in March 2009 in the first big test case under China’s revamped antitrust laws. The ruling was seen as protectionist and populist by many people outside China.

Coca-Cola had been willing to pay HK$12.20 a share to buy Danone’s 23 per cent stake as well as 36 per cent owned by Zhu Xinli, Huiyuan’s founder, and the 7 per cent stake held at the time by US private equity group Warburg Pincus.

Danone said it was ceding the stake in the juice group, which was held in its waters division to concentrate on natural mineral and spring water.

The world’s biggest yoghurt-maker is selling its share in the juice maker for HK$6 per share, roughly a 10 per cent premium to Huiyuan’s July 27 closing price of HK$5.43.

Danone has transformed itself into a health foods company after selling beer, biscuits, cheese and snacks assets.

The French group reiterated its commitment to the Chinese market, saying it would continue to expand all four of its main businesses – yoghurts, waters, baby food and medical nutrition – already implanted there.

Danone has 20 factories and 9,000 employees in China but has faced obstacles. Last year Danone said it would quit its troubled joint venture with Wahaha, China’s leading soft-drinks producer. The move ended a high-profile commercial dispute that had sparked political tensions between Paris and Beijing.

Danone and Warburg Pincus made cornerstone investments in Huiyuan months ahead of its Hong Kong listing in February 2007. However, after the failure of the Coca-Cola deal, Warburg Pincus sold its stake into the public market last year.

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