Antoine Riboud, the founder and former chief executive of world food giant Danone, died on Sunday, said the company.
Riboud built up the former glass business into one of the world's leading food companies, famous for its yoghurts, Evian mineral water and LU biscuits. Riboud was 83 and had been ill for some time. He died at home in Paris.
Riboud was also famous for the 1972 "Marseilles Speech" , claimed to have a big impact on employers in France, in which he said : "I firmly believe that we can be both efficient and human…Let us conduct our business as much with the heart as with the head.."
Nicole Notat, head of France's second largest union CFDT, said : "Antoine Riboud was a true entrepreneur, a humanist, a man committed to his ideas... He stimulated both corporations and trade unions."
David-Weill, vice-chairman of the Danone Board of Directors, said in a statement: "Antoine is proof that one man can make all the difference. He is proof that a man with ideas, a strong personality and enthusiasm can turn a firm or a group of people, by virtue of his character, into a great flourishing company that spans the world."
Born in Lyon on 25 December 1918, Riboud merged his glassware company with the dairy business Gervais Danone in 1973, creating the biggest food group in France.
By 1981 he had pulled out of the glass industry to focus on food and continued European expansion with acquisitions in pasta, mineral water and beer.
Riboud dropped the original BSN name in 1994 for Groupe Danone, and retired two years later.
Last year, Danone had sales of €14.5 billion, with its top brands, Danone, LU and Evian, accounting for 40 per cent of sales.