Flora-owner to swallow €500m plant-based food group Violife

Wednesday 9th October 2019 21:30 BST

Sky News has learnt that Upfield, which is owned by the private equity giant KKR, is negotiating to buy Violife Foods, a Greek-headquartered operating in one of the global food industry's fastest-growing segments.

Sources said that Upfield, which was given its name after KKR bought the spreads portfolio from Unilever in late 2017, was the leading contender to acquire Violife.

A number of other buyout firms also tabled bids for the privately held company, although none are thought to have matched the KKR-backed company's offer.

One source said the deal would cost Upfield hundreds of millions of euros - and potentially around €500m.

Details of the transaction, including the precise price under negotiation, were unclear on Wednesday night.

If completed, the deal will create one of the world's largest manufacturers of plant-based foods.

Upfield, which has its headquarters in Amsterdam, owns scores of brands, including Proactiv and Becel, and is focused on tapping into growing consumer demand for non-dairy and other vegan products.

Violife's products are widely distributed in the UK, including through the online grocer Ocado, and at Asda, WholeFoods, Planet Organic, Sainsbury's and other big food retailers.

The company produces vegan cheeses, spreads and other plant-based foods which are seeing rapid growth in demand from increasingly health-conscious consumers.

A number of companies, such as Beyond Meat, have seen their shares soar since going public in New York as investors have lapped up their soaring growth figures.

One source said the addition of Violife's product portfolio to Upfield would enable the latter to use its distribution and marketing muscle to expand the business in the US.

Insiders also believe that the acquisition will provide a major boost to Upfield's future growth, enabling KKR to consider an initial public offering of the group in several years' time.

KKR paid €6.8bn for Unilever's spreads business following a fiercely competitive auction.

The business remains highly profitable, despite concerns about flagging organic sales.

Upfield sells its products in more than 95 countries, manufacturing them at 17 sites around the world.

The company is run by David Haines, a former Coca-Cola and Mars executive who also had a spell in the UK as Vodafone's first global marketing director.

Upfield declined to comment on Wednesday, while Violife could not be reached for comment.

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