Chinese PE firm gobbles up UK’s Pizza Express for $1.54 billion

17 July 2014   Category: News, Asia, China, Global, United Kingdom   By Derek Au

Chinese private equity firm Hony Capital will pay US$1.54 billion to acquire Pizza Express as part of plans to strengthen the restaurant chain’s presence in Mainland China.

Hony reportedly won an auction process – that also included China’s Citic and four other private equity outfits – to take control of UK-based Pizza Express. The chain is currently operated by Gondola Group, itself owned by London-based private equity house Cinven.

Hony Chief Executive Officer John Zhao said his firm would make use of its local expertise to accelerate the growth of Pizza Express in the Chinese market”.

Pizza Express Chief Executive Officer Richard Hodgson said the Asian market is a key part of the restaurant chain’s future growth strategy, and believes Hony’s experience in the region is invaluable.

The deal for Pizza Express is the latest in the trend of Chinese firms taking an interest in British food brands. Bright Food, China’s second-largest food company, agreed to buy a 60% stake in UK cereal maker Weetabix from private equity firm Lion Capital in 2012.

The acquisition of Pizza Express comes two months after the chain expanded its foothold in mainland China by opening its first outlet in Beijing. It already has 12 restaurants in Hong Kong and nine in Shanghai. Worldwide it has more than 500, including 436 in the UK and outlets in the Middle East and India.

Hony’s current portfolio includes three major cross-border investments in interests including concrete machinery, medical services and property investment. It also has made a wide range of investments in China related to construction materials, pharmaceuticals, retail and financial services.