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R&R Ice Cream acquires Pilpa as French sales soar

By Ben Bouckley , 06-Sep-2011
Last updated the 07-Sep-2011 at 13:05 GMT

R&R Ice Cream has acquired Europe’s largest private-label ice cream manufacturer Pilpa in a deal worth around €17.65m, plus stock on completion estimated at €9m.

Carcassonne-based Pilpa is the ice cream division of French firm Maison Boncalac, which also makes frozen appetisers and patisserie products.

Pilpa employs 154 staff, and by acquiring the firm UK-headquartered R&R will add around 23m litres of ice cream a year to its current 450m litre output.

A leading supplier of own-label ice cream to French supermarkets, Pilpa also produces brands such as Disney, Oasis and Pilpa.

James Lambert, ceo of R&R Ice Cream (pictured) told DairyReporter.com that R&R was "now of a size in France to be meaningful in the market", after this acqusition and its takeover of the nation's third-largest ice cream producer Rolland last year.

Within the European market, Lambert said that own-label was getting stronger, particularly during the economic downturn. Meanwhille, branded players such as Nestle and Unilver had upped promotional expenditure from 50% to 80%.

"There has been increasing competition, which is squeezing more traditional, single site, single country, own-label dominated suppliers," said Lambert.

"The only people who can stand this and continue to invest are Unilver and R&R Ice Cream," Lambert said. "Even Nestle, I think, has stopped investing.

Bigger firms, investing harder

Lambert mentioned recent failures amongst smaller UK ice cream firms, and said others in Europe were "teetering on the edge of bankruptcy".

"One of the reasons is that there's a huge advantage in scale, it's like steel- or glass-making," he said. "Big lines in big factories, efficiently run can deal with plenty of innovation. Those are the businesses that are dominant. It's becoming much more of a two-horse race in Europe."

The associated consolidation drive - for instance, R&R runs 22 big lines in one German factory and gains associated economies of scale - only mirrors how the major supermarkets are consolidating across Europe, Lambert said.

"There will be less retailers and food manufacturers in Europe, but they will be bigger, stronger and investing harder. We will be one of them in ice cream."

R&R would invest approximately €20m a year across Europe, principally in machinery, Lambert said. "That will be more than all, or at least as much as the rest of the market put together."

The company was also planning to build a new Polish factory, due to open next year, to cater for the growing European success of Tesco brand Choka Block, he added.

Really strong business

R&R was committed to keeping production at Pilpa's Carcassonne site "for the moment", Lambert said.

"There's no doubt that France has got a lot of ice cream factories in it and they will not all get invested in. Whoever has the most productive workforce and the most innovation amongst our factories, we will invest in.

"But clearly it [the Carcassonne site] is a very old factory and has not been invested in for 20 years. Hence one of the reason it's being sold.

"But we're very pleased to own it. We will manage it well, and there is very good workforce in Carcassonne. I'm looking forward to working with everyone there and building a really strong business."

Lambert said that super premium ice cream products were booming across Europe, while at the other end of the spectrum the success of Aldi and Lidl meant that "not lower quality but better value" cheaper products also meant opportunities.

R&R Ice Cream was created in 2006 by Oaktree Capital Management after the private equity firm merged Richmond Ice Cream with Roncadin.

Prior to buying Pilpa, R&R had eight factories, a turnover of over €500 million and around 2,000 employees in France, Germany, Poland and the UK.

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