Coca-Cola has launched a US$2.4bn takeover bid for the China Huiyuan Juice Group, in what could be the second largest acquisition in the US soft drink firm's history.

One of Huiyuan's shareholders, France's Groupe Danone, said today (3 September) that it had already agreed to sell its 23% stake in the Hong Kong-listed firm. It did not disclose a reason for selling up.

Danone's statement came almost immediately after Coca-Cola announced it intended to buy Huiyuan, one of China's leading juice makers with a reported 46% share of the pure juice market, for HK$12.20 (US$1.56) per share, in cash.

It is thought the deal would be the largest ever in China's food and drink sector, and would see Coca-Cola sending out a strong message to rivals on the country's blossoming soft drinks market.

"Huiyuan is a long-established and successful juice brand in China," said Muhtar Kent, Coca-Cola president and CEO. "This acquisition will deliver value to our shareholders and provide a unique opportunity to strengthen our business in China, especially since the juice segment is so dynamic and fast growing in China. It is also further evidence of our deep commitment to China."

Coca-Cola said it had reached agreement on the sale with three unnamed shareholders, equating to 66% of Huiyuan's shares.

As part of the deal, Huiyuan's current chairman, Zhu Xinli, is set to continue as an honorary chairman on the board.

Coca-Cola said that it "anticipated synergies that will drive operational efficiencies, particularly in the Huiyuan business' production footprint and in Coca-Cola's distribution and raw material purchasing capabilities".

It declined to put a figure on synergies, but added that the takeover would be earnings positive from year three. If backed by Chinese competition authorities, the deal would dent Coca-Cola's earnings per share this year by up to $0.04, the firm said.