At least when Groupe Lactalis takes your milk money, you get something in return! Lactalis is the largest dairy enterprise in the world, producing 13.6 million liters of milk a year. In addition to milk, it sells cheese, butter, and cream. Among the group's brands, Président (camembert) is its flagship. Other brands are Bridel, Locatelli, Société, Sorrento, and Valmont. Lactalis operates nearly 200 industrial sites, which support global distribution of its lineup in some 150 countries. Although the group is a leading dairy exporter, about 60% of its sales are domestic. Lactalis was founded in 1933 by André Besnier; his descendants retain control. The French dairy group took over Italian rival Parmalat in 2011.
Despite the target's desire to remain Italian-owned, Lactalis has rapidly expanded its ownership. Since paying about €3.4 billion ($4.9 billion) for a share of Parmalat, Lactalis in mid-2011 secured an 83% stake and won control of Parmalat's board, gaining nine of 11 board seats, and appointing one of its own executives as CEO.
Lactalis' coup has helped it rise to the top of both France and Italy's cheese market (as well as Europe's dairy industry). Nonetheless its appetite for acquisitions is unabated. In 2011 the group bought out Fromageries de l'Etoile, in a move estimated between €50 million and €100 million ($69.1 million and $138.2 million). Fromageries de l'Etoile (in English, "Cheese of the Stars") produces an array of specialty cheese, some bearing the coveted Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC) certification, awarded for products originating in certain French regions, in this case Rocamadour. Earlier in the year, Lactalis purchased specialty cheese maker Wälchli, making Lactalis the leading producer of Saint-Nectaire, a French cheese with an AOC pedigree, too. (Lactalis now owns 36 out of the 46 AOC certified cheeses in France.)
Spying opportunities beyond France, the group entered Russia in early 2010 by purchasing Efremovski, a processed cheese maker. The deal enables Lactalis to tap demand for hard cheese, a segment which represents approximately 65% of the Russian cheese market. Lactalis acquired the cheese business of Spain's Forlasa Alimentación, the same year. Forlasa's brands include El Ventero, Gran Capitán, and Don Bernardo; it is the world's #1 manufacturer of the sheepy Manchego. Lactalis also bought out Spain's Puleva (milk) from Ebro Foods and Sanutri (infant and baby nutrition products) from French health-food group Nutrition & Santé. The latter move boosted the group's portfolio of baby milk and cereal products, established in 2008 with the takeover of Royal Numico's baby milk and drink businesses and Obory, a Polish producer of milk drinks and drinking yogurts.
The group looked across the Channel in 2010, too, and acquired Rachel's Dairy UK from US giant Dean Foods. Rachel's is the UK's second-largest organic dairy brand. Its core product is yogurt, a category that Lactalis is just beginning to mine in France.