Dairy giant Feihe International to embark on second $1bn IPO attempt in Hong Kong

By Cheryl Tay contact

- Last updated on GMT

Feihe reportedly holds more than 8% of the domestic infant formula market share at the moment. ©Getty Images
Feihe reportedly holds more than 8% of the domestic infant formula market share at the moment. ©Getty Images

Related tags: IPO, Infant formula, China, Hong kong

China-based dairy and infant formula specialist Feihe International is said to be reviving its plans for a Hong Kong IPO that could raise up to US$1bn, signifying the firm's second attempt at an IPO.

Its first was in 2017 with China Merchants Securities as its sponsor.

The company had gone private in 2013 when it de-listed from the New York Stock Exchange, along with many other US-traded Chinese firms, some of which have since re-listed in Hong Kong.

Feihe is currently working with JPMorgan Chase and China Merchants Securities on raising the funds. Industry insiders close to the deal, who chose to remain anonymous, said the size and timing of the share offering could still change, but declined to reveal more as further information is still being kept under wraps.

Anywhere but China?

China's 2008 melamine milk scandal​ saw Feihe and many of its competitors ramp up their overseas expansion, as Chinese parents began looking to foreign infant formula brands instead of domestic brands.

In 2017, Feihe partnered with its subsidiary Canada Royal Milk to invest over US$176m in a production plant in Kingston, Ontario​. Spanning a total area of 29,730 sq m, the plant was said to be Canada's first and only wet infant formula facility, as well as North America's first goat milk formula facility.

The government of Ontario itself invested nearly US$19m in the facility through its Jobs and Prosperity Fund, which supports food, beverage and bio-product manufacturing projects in the province. In addition, the province of Ontario contributed US$1.16m​ to a total project investment of US$3.4m, supported by the Eastern Ontario Development Fund.

The plant's primary input is said to be an annual 75 million litres of goat milk, but cow milk is to be used until the necessary goat milk supply has been developed, which is not expected until late 2020.

As such, there were fears in October last year that changes to infant formula export quotas under a revised North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) would affect the plant — NAFTA's export restrictions would apply solely to cow-derived products.

However, Canadian ambassador to the US David MacNaughton said these quotas had been set specifically to allow the facility to begin operations in mid-2019, as scheduled.

In January 2018, Feihe also completed its acquisition​ of US retailer Vitamin World from private investment firm Centre Lane Partners for an undisclosed sum, though initial reports had said Feihe was intending to buy Vitamin World out of bankruptcy for US$28m.

Domestic recovery

Though Feihe's plant in Canada, which was planned with China as one of its target export markets, has not yet opened, it seems the company is one of the only domestic infant formula firms to have recovered at home after the 2008 scandal.

Under China's stricter infant formula rules​ enforced in 2017, Feihe was one of the nine domestic firms to have had its products approved among the first batch of registrations.

According to Chinese research firm Syntun, Feihe was one of only two domestic names​ among the top 10 bestselling infant formula products in China in Q1 2018.

The company also reportedly holds more than 8%​ of the domestic infant formula market share at the moment.

Feihe, JPMorgan Chase and China Merchants Securities have stated that they will not be releasing any further information for the time being.

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