UPDATE: Nov. 11, 2021: The U.S. Justice Department will require both the divestitures of the Polly-O and Athenos brands in order for this deal to go through, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday. Both of these transactions were already in progress — with BelGioioso Cheese acquiring former Kraft Heinz brand Polly-O from Lactalis, and Athenos being sold to specialty cheese maker Emmi Roth. The Justice Department said that as long as the divestitures happen, the antitrust matter will be settled.
- BelGioioso Cheese plans to acquire Polly-O from Lactalis Group, the company said in a statement. The purchase price was not disclosed.
- Polly-O, which makes ricotta, mozzarella and string cheeses, had net sales of about $177 million last year, a press release on the transaction noted. BelGioioso’s acquisition of Polly-O remains subject to final approval by U.S. regulators.
- The transaction comes a year after Kraft Heinz agreed to sell its natural cheese business to Lactalis for $3.2 billion. The companies agreed to divest Polly-O following an antitrust review by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Until 2017, Lactalis North America, a division of the 88-year-old French dairy company, had a minimal presence in the U.S., mainly through its popular shelf-stable milk brand Parmalat and cheeses such as President.
Then four years ago, Lactalis purchased Stonyfield from Danone for $875 million, which gave it a strong foothold in organic. It followed that in 2018 with the addition of Siggi's, the New York-based maker of Icelandic-style yogurts using simple ingredients. By far its biggest deal was the agreement with Kraft Heinz in 2020 that added to the fold brands such as Breakstone's, Knudsen, Athenos, Hoffman's and Cracker Barrel, in the U.S. only.
"We are a leader in the world [in dairy] and we are not in the U.S.," Thierry Clement, the former CEO of Lactalis North America, said last year. "We want to be the one stop for all the dairy. We can't offer all the ranges [of product] so we still have a lot to bring if we want to be a leader in this country, and this is our mission."
But with big deals comes a natural pruning of the portfolio. Just two weeks ago, Lactalis announced the sale of feta cheese brand Athenos to specialty cheese maker Emmi Roth. Now comes the sale of Polly-O.
BelGioioso, a Wisconsin-based maker of Italian cheeses, already has a solid presence in stores and other establishments with its portfolio of mozzarella, ricotta and parmesan. Purchasing Polly-O not only adds a well-known brand to the mix, but also allows BelGioioso to extract synergies that come with purchasing raw ingredients, manufacturing the product and marketing it.
U.S. cheese production has been steadily increasing to about 6 million metric tons of cheese, up from 5.04 million tons seven years earlier, according to Statista. The data firm also noted cheese consumption per person has been gradually increasing to about 15.4 pounds in 2018. While plant-based cheeses are making inroads among consumers and people are keeping a closer watch on what they eat, traditional cheese remains a popular offering that companies are eager to have in their portfolios.