Rumours of a possible takeover of Russia's leading dairy group Wimm-Bill-Dann by French dairy giant Danone have been circulating for some time, but have both companies have remained decidedly mute on whether there was more to the rumours than mere market speculation.
But that all changed yesterday when the Russian company confirmed that a group of shareholders - thought to represent around 60 per cent of the company's share capital - were engaged in preliminary talks with the French group.
"Certain of the company's shareholders have in the past explored a variety and number of potential combinations, joint ventures or partnerships with Groupe Danone," WBD said in a statement.
"Consistent with this ongoing exploration of business opportunities, these shareholders are engaged in preliminary discussions in relation to a possible transaction, which may or may not result in the acquisition of all or a majority of the shares of the company by Groupe Danone."
The company stressed that no agreement had yet been reached, and that there was in fact no guarantee than an agreement of any sort would be reached at all.
The statement came just a week after WBD's chairman David Yakobashvili told investors that he thought it unlikely the French group would make a bid for the company.
Danone has thus far made no comment about the talks, totally in keeping with its previous dealings with WBD. The French company has never openly commented on its relationship with the Russian firm, although it has around a 6 per cent stake in the company.
Wimm-Bill-Dann would undoubtedly be a good buy for Danone, not least because it is one of the few Russian dairy companies with anything approaching a nationwide distribution network. Although its stronghold is Moscow, the company has pursued a rapid growth policy in recent months, pushing further and further into the Russian provinces, and it is this which would appeal to Danone, whose sales are almost all made in the Moscow region.