Omega-3 milk producer Ebro Puleva looks set to quit dairy category

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Nutrition

Spanish food giant Ebro Puleva is set to depart the dairy category where its Puleva Omega-3 milk has been a pioneering product, following an agreement to sell off its dairy business worth €630m to Lactalis, Europe's largest dairy group.

Last year the Spanish firm also sold off its sugar business to Associated British Foods, which helped it pay off debt, and now only retains its rice and pasta brands.

A spokesperson for Ebro Puleva told that the aim of the dairy division sale was not to generate a cash injection or help with debt reduction but instead it was part of the company strategy to focus the food business on ready meals.

Puleva Omega-3 milk has been on the Spanish market for more than ten years where it has captured two per cent of the milk market and notches annual sales of more than €110m. Ebro Puleva acquires much of its omega-3 fatty acids from its subsidiary, Puleva Biotech, which also produces probiotic strains.

The Spanish firm stated that the financial status of the dairy business will be audited over the next month, following which the final contracts of sale will be drawn up. However, it said that the transaction must be submitted to the anti-trust authorities for approval.

There was speculation earlier this year that the Spanish group was preparing to also sell off the functional foods and ingredients business, Puleva Biotech, in which it is the majority shareholder but the spokesperson dismissed this stating: "On many occasions we have emphasized that this division has never been included in the process for the disposal of our dairy business."

In terms of functional foods, she said that the company is continuing to invest in adding health and wellness value to its rice and pasta range.

Ebro Puleva turned in a record result for the first half of 2009, with net profits surging 25 per cent to €98m on turnover of €1.12bn. At that point it had reduced its consolidated debts by 53.4 per cent to €582m.

In a year of unfaltering double-digit growth of the infant nutrition segment and the constant launching of new high value added products, the dairy division completed an outstanding 2009 with EBITDA of €67m euro, up 33.8 per cent year on year, and a turnover of €444m.

In those results, Puleva Biotech registered turnover of €222m and EBITDA (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation) of €31m – up 34.7 per cent on the first half of 2008.

Unlisted family-owned French firm Lactalis owns the President and Lauki brands. With this new acquisition, and including the activity of Forlasa, still waiting the agreement of the competition authorities in Spain, Lactalis will have 12 factories in Spain, 2,700 employees and a turnover of almost €1,200m.

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