The rumour mill is rife that a delegation from one of China’s largest food companies has recently visited – or is currently in – Ireland, assessing the feasibility of acquiring one of this country’s largest food processors.

A well-placed source within the dairy sector has told Agriland that it would make perfect sense for China to buy into the Irish food sector.

“Ireland is set to become the fastest growing milk production centre on the planet,” he added.

“On the other hand, China needs as much high quality dairy protein as it can get its hands on. So a deal involving an Irish processer and Bright Dairy, which is basically an agency of the Chinese government agrees, makes total sense. Why should China pay an extra margin to an Irish supplier when the option of actually owning stainless steel in this country might be available to them? ”

Former ICOS director general John Tyrrell holds a similar view.

“It doesn’t surprise me in the least to hear that a Chinese food operation might be interested in buying into the Irish food sector. That said I have heard nothing about the rumoured visit of th delegation from Bright Dairy.”

Shanghai-based Bright Food Group Co Ltd is China’s second-largest food producer. The company has recently acquired a number of food business in countries around the world. These include Australia’s Manassen Foods, British cereal maker Weetabix Ltd and New Zealand’s Synlait Milk Ltd.

Significantly, the company has made it clear over recent months that it is seeking to acquire additional food business in countries around the world during 2014.

Bright Dairy has a wide range of business interests, including production agriculture, food processing and food distribution. Its total assets have been valued at around US$14bn.

The activities of Bright Dairy within the international food processing sector is further evidence of the amost insatiable demand for high-quality food in China. Irrespective of the company acquiring an Irish food business, Irish dairy processors are already confirming that China will be a crucially important market for them as they gear up their output post the ending of milk quotas.

Additional reporting Lisa Deeney