Lactalis has upped the ante in the battle for Italian rival Paramlat with the announcement this morning (26 April) of a takeover bid for the entire business.

The French dairy giant, which has faced political and business opposition in Italy to its building of a near 29% stake in food and drinks firm Parmalat, has tabled an offer for the rest of the company worth EUR2.60 a share. The bid values Parmalat at EUR3.38bn (US$4.95bn).

Lactalis said the offer represented a premium of 21.3% on the average price of Parmalat's shares over the last 12 months.

"We have an ambitious growth project for Parmalat, to build a flagship Italian group in the global milk market - with its headquarters, its organisation and its management in Italy," said Lactalis president Emmanuel Besnier.

Last month, Lactalis started to buy shares in Parmalat, ultimately taking its stake to just under 29%. The French company also put forward a slate of candidates for nomination to Parmalat's board at its AGM.

The moves prompted concern in political concerns in Italy that one of the country's "strategic" businesses could fall into foreign ownership. Rome passed an emergency decree allowing companies based in Italy to delay shareholder meetings - a move said to be a way of giving Parmalat time to consider its options - and the Italian firm pushed back its meeting until June.

Rome also indicated that it wanted a "consortium" of domestic companies and banks to keep Parmalat in Italian hands.

Since Lactalis's investment, reports in Italy have speculated that domestic banks could buy into Parmalat to prevent the French firm from taking control.

Amid the speculation, earlier this month, reports also claimed Parmalat could buy smaller rival Granarolo before being taken over by a national consortium, although at the time Parmalat declined to comment.