General Mills said Friday it is in "exclusive negotiations" to buy 50 percent of French yogurt maker Yoplait, plus a controlling interest in the business.

General Mills didn't disclose a price, but the French firm selling the Yoplait stake indicated it would be just under $1.2 billion.

French equity firm PAI Partners, owner of the Yoplait stake being purchased, said the deal would create a market value of $2.3 billion for Yoplait.

The announcement made the Golden Valley company the apparent winner over eight other competitors that made offers for Yoplait.

General Mills has held the U.S. marketing license for Yoplait products since 1977. Sodiaal, the French creator of the yogurt brand, markets in the rest of the world. However, under the new ownership arrangement, General Mills would try to expand Yoplait's market share in western Europe and extend its reach in China and India.

Analysts said General Mills appeared to be buying the 50 percent stake partly to ensure that it retains U.S. marketing rights to the Yoplait brand, something other companies, including Nestle SA, had been interested in.

Some analysts said General Mills was paying a high price for its stake in Yoplait, but that it might be justified by the rapidly growing yogurt market.

Steve Alexander • 612-673-4553