National Foods seeks growth in specialty cheese with Lactos deal

By Dominique Patton

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags National foods Cheese

Australian dairy group National Foods has signed an agreement to
buy the specialty cheese maker Lactos from France's Bongrain.

The acquisition, still subject to regulatory approvals, will help National Foods boost its share of the higher value end of the cheese market, in which it became a significant player with the purchase of King Island in 2002.

National Foods, owned by Philippine food and beverage conglomerate San Miguel, markets the leading milk brand in Australia but a spokesman for the firm told it only had a 4 per cent share of the cheese market.

If the new deal goes through, it will acquire two production plants from Lactos, a cut-and-wrap facility as well as the key Australian Gold, Mersey Valley and Tasmanian Heritage brands.

"It will broaden our overall range of high value specialty cheese products and give us access to additional manufacturing intellectual property and skilled employees,"​ said managing director Alexander Waugh.

Terms of the deal and the purchase price were not disclosed but San Miguel has made it clear that it wants to significantly grow National Foods' sales.

Shortly after buying the Australian group in June last year, president Ramon Ang said he expected to see National Foods double its exports to the Asia-Pacific region to reach A$100 million in the next two years.

Lactos, Australia's largest producer of camembert type cheese, already has substantial export markets in the Asia/Pacific region. With a larger range of specialty European-style cheeses, the Australian dairy will be well-positioned to supply the growing Asian appetite for premium Western foods.

"Once the sale is approved, our plan is to do a strategic review of all our cheese assets and proceed from there,"​ the National Foods spokesman added.

Bongrain, which calls itself the world's leading specialty cheese maker, said in a statement that the business sold involves less than 2 per cent of group consolidated net sales (€67m in 2005). The sale will allow the French firm to "amplify its own development within potentially high growth markets",​ it said.

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