Lactalis set to buy Leerdammer cheese from Bel

By Jim Cornall

- Last updated on GMT

Since Bel bought it in 2002, Leerdammer sales and earnings have nearly doubled.  Pic: Groupe Bel
Since Bel bought it in 2002, Leerdammer sales and earnings have nearly doubled. Pic: Groupe Bel

Related tags Cheese Groupe bel Lactalis

Bel Group and Lactalis Group said they have begun exclusive negotiations, with Bel Group set to sell Royal Bel Leerdammer NL, Bel Italia, Bel Deutschland, the Leerdammer brand and all related rights plus Bel Shostka Ukraine, to the French dairy giant.

Sicopa, a wholly-owned Bel subsidiary, will transfer the assets to Lactalis in return for 1,591,472 Bel shares (23.16% equity stake) held by Lactalis.

Following the transaction, Lactalis will hold a 0.90% stake in Bel.

Bel Group chairman and CEO Antoine Fievet said, “In line with our strategic priorities, we continue to grow our business and take on three further market segments, namely dairy, fruit and plant-based, and so reinforce our healthy snacking major player position. With this asset sale deal we reaffirm our independent family business model that gives us freedom to take a long-term view. For Leerdammer, this deal means a unique chance to have the backing of Lactalis, dairy products world no. 1, which will have the wherewithal to support it for its upcoming challenges. We’re proud to have supported it with tremendous success over close on 20 years. I’d like today to thank all Leerdammer and Bel Shostka Ukraine people for their outstanding work and commitment.”

Lactalis Group chairman Emmanuel Besnier said, “We welcome Leerdammer and we’re excited by the prospect of building on the growth of this iconic brand that people adore. This deal gives us an opening into the Dutch cheese market and production in Holland via three manufacturing plants. The transfer to us of Bel’s Italian, German and Ukrainian sales subsidiaries will boost our facilities in these countries benefiting both Leerdammer and other Bel product sales on these markets.”

Since Bel bought it in 2002, Leerdammer sales and earnings have nearly doubled. Now the cheese brand will join the Lactalis portfolio.

Lactalis said it plans to ramp up its innovations catalogue, grow its branding and move into new high-growth world regions.

This deal will bolster the Group’s European roots, specifically in Italy and Germany, and offers good prospects for development in markets where Lactalis already has a presence. This includes Ukraine, where Lactalis has had a business for 25 years.

Selling a business such as Leerdammer is in line with Bel Group strategy since 2015. Bel took steps forward in its strategy with its 2016 MOM and 2020 All In Foods acquisitions, which aimed to take its business beyond cheese products to bolster its positioning as a major healthy snacking player.

Against this backdrop, this latest deal gives Bel further opportunities to advance its product offering strategy on its three further key market segments, while also stepping up moves into high-growth future markets like Asia/Pacific and North America.

Bel said it seeks to achieve a balance in the medium term between dairy and fruit and vegetables by tapping into its core brands like The Laughing Cow, Kiri, Mini Babybel, Boursin and GoGo squeeZ. Bel will continue to develop dairy products, fruit produce, alternative and mixed plant-based.

Bel said the transaction’s terms and conditions protect Bel’s market shares in Germany, Italy and Ukraine by adjusting local retail models based on exclusive sales alliances with Lactalis to distribute its other brands.

Post-transaction, Lactalis selling its Bel shareholding will give Bel family shareholders further funds to invest in future growth and bolster market share, thereby testifying to the independent family business model that has underpinned Bel’s success over close to 150 years.

The Bel Group and Lactalis Group boards of directors have unanimously approved the unilateral promise to purchase.

The transaction completion will be conditional on obtaining required approval from the anti-trust authorities that is expected by the end of summer 2021.

As of December 31, 2021, Leerdammer and Bel Shostka Ukraine revenues were approximately €500m ($596m), of which €350m ($417m) were Leerdammer revenues, while operating earnings were approximately €25m ($29.8m).

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