Arla Foods, the Scandinavian dairy group, has added to its British operations with the acquisition of HT Webb, the leading speciality cheese importer in the UK.
Arla Foods said the purchase would allow it to blend Webb's flexible speciality cheese importing, cutting and packing operations with its own experience of large-scale speciality cheese production plus brand and category management expertise.
The acquisition also demonstrates Arla's commitment to the UK market with further investment there. Earlier this year the company formed a joint venture with New Zealand Milk which brought the two leading butter brands in the UK - Lurpak and Anchor - into the same stable, and it also unveiled plans for a £50 million (€78.6m) fresh milk dairy at Stourton, Leeds, next to its new £10 million chilled distribution warehouse.
Speciality cheeses are not new to Arla, which produces the Discover… range of speciality cheese and Rosenborg blue cheeses. The purchase of HT Webb will allow Arla to offer retailers a range of Dutch, French, German, Italian, English, Austrian and Swiss cheeses.
Arla's chief executive, David Salkeld, said that the deal would put the Scandinavian company into a strong position in the speciality cheese sector. "No single UK speciality cheese supplier currently has the overall expertise and resource needed to advise major retailers on how to drive the category forward," he said.
"Nobody is able to address issues such as growth potential or shopper confusion. No supplier has an overall vision for speciality cheese and, just as importantly, plans to deliver it. This acquisition signals our intent in this area. We are serious about speciality cheese and Arla Foods can now provide this overall solution for retailers."
HT Webb & Co will continue to operate from its two sites in Northfleet, near Gravesend, Kent, and Rainham, Essex. The joint managing directors of HT Webb, Alan Preston and Peter Clarke will remain with the company.
"Together with Arla we are looking forward to creating a centre of excellence for speciality cheese in the UK that will be the focus for driving forward the speciality cheese market," said Alan Preston. "We are anticipating this new challenge with great enthusiasm and excitement and believe we have a winning combination of knowledge and skills."
As well as continental speciality cheeses, HT Webb also cuts and wraps a number of home-produced speciality cheeses, including Double Gloucester, Red Leicester, Cheddar, Blue Wensleydale and Somerset Brie.