The continuing trend towards healthier foods has prompted one of France's leading cheese makers to form a partnership with a company specialising in low-fat spreads.
Lactalis, whose cheese brands include Président, Bridélice, Rondelé and Société, claims to be Europe's leading dairy processor, but it has been relatively slow at moving into the health segment of the dairy market, at least compared to rival groups.
But this is about to change with the acquisition of a stake in Lille-based company Cema, a family-owned group whose low-fat spreads are sold under the Primavere brand.
Lactalis, which was known as Besnier until 1999, did not say how much of Cema it had bought, or indeed how much it had paid for the stake, adding simply that the deal was subject to approval by the French competition authorities.
Cema, whose sales reached €50 million last year, has had a great deal of success with the Primavere range as consumers seek healthier products which do not compromise on taste.
"The strengthening of ties between the two companies will allow us to accelerate the development of the range of products sold under the Primavere brand," Lactalis said in a statement.
Cema will not be swallowed completely by Lactalis, and will keep its own sales teams and production facilities. But with the added boost from Lactalis marketing and distribution might, the Primavere brand is likely to become more widely seen on supermarket shelves both in France and elsewhere.
Lactalis registered sales of €5.5 billion in 2002, of which €2.2 billion came from outside France. It has 65 production plants in France and 12 overseas, while its Président brand alone is sold in 128 countries.
The company recently expanded its business in Italy with the acquisition of the Kraft Foods cheese business, Invernizzi.