Beijing-based Hony Capital has bought PizzaExpress, the British restaurant chain, for about £900m in the latest example of China’s growing appetite for overseas investments.
The sale comes after PizzaExpress owner Cinven, the London-based buyout group, explored plans last year to sell Gondola Group, the parent company that owns the pizza chain along with other restaurant assets, including Zizzi.
Cinven has moved to dispose of individual chains within the group after reckoning it would be difficult to find a private buyer for the entire business. It sold Byron, the gourmet burger chain, in October for £100m. Cinven declined to comment.
A string of UK brands have been sold to buyers based in China. Outbound mergers and acquisitions in the food and beverage industries accounted for 17 per cent of total M&A in China in the year to June, almost on a par with the 20 per cent from the energy and power sector – traditionally the biggest deal generator, according to Thomson Reuters.
Chinese property and entertainment conglomerate Wanda paid more than £300m for almost 92 per cent of Dorset luxury yachtmaker Sunseeker International, and Weetabix was bought by Bright Food in a deal that valued the breakfast cereal at £1.2bn.
Hony Capital is a China-focused middle-market private equity firm backed by Legend Holdings. It has more than $6.8bn in assets under management across seven funds, according to its website.
The firm is also exploring a bid for United Biscuits, the maker of Jaffa Cakes, said people familiar with the situation.
The PizzaExpress bidding process also attracted Chinese rival Citic, said people familiar with the matter.
Cinven, which manages a €5.3bn buyout fund, took Gondola private in a €1.3bn deal in 2006.
Gondola employs more than 15,000 people, serving 40m meals a year in more than 690 restaurants, according to Cinven’s website.
PizzaExpress has focused on international expansion in recent years. It will open its first Beijing outlet this summer. The group has restaurants in Shanghai and Hong Kong. The chain also expanded its Middle East business, with a new outlet in Saudi Arabia. The expansion means that PizzaExpress now operates in 14 countries.
Richard Hodgson, the former Wm Morrison executive, took over the running of PizzaExpress in April last year.
“Asia is a key part of our future growth strategy and Hony’s expertise in this region will be invaluable,” he said.
Cinven appointed Rothschild and Goldman Sachs last year to explore a potential float of Gondola or a break-up of the business.
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