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.