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Lactalis, the president Besnier: 7 billion of investments in Italy

"With 28 factories we are the largest milk and cheese group" in the country

13 years after the disputed acquisition of Parmalat, the head of the French group speaks for the first time.

They call it "the invisible". He is Emmanuel Besnier , also nicknamed the "tycoon of mysteries", 53 years jealously guarded, head of Lactalis, the tenth largest dairy group in the world with its 80,000 employees and a 2022 turnover of 28.3 billion euros, up by 28.4% on 2021. Besnier, the third generation at the head of the very secretive Lactalis (a company founded in 1933 by his grandfather André Besnier in Laval, in the Loire region), has amassed a fortune: according to Forbes, his assets are around 21 billion dollars, obviously making him one of the richest men in France and rightfully entering the world's top ten super-rich in the food and beverage sector.

In 2011 he managed to conquer Parmalat, taking it over amid a thousand controversies from the post-Tanzi commissioner management. It was feared that a very important heritage of Made in Italy food could be lost, but the history of the following years has shown the opposite.

The tycoon is back from a tour of Italy, between Lombardy and Emilia to visit the plants: from the one in Galbani in Casale Cremasco, to the Tricolore cheese factory in Reggio Emilia up to Parmalat in Collecchio. Al Corriere della Sera, in a long article published on Sunday 23 April, he spoke out in what is his first interview in Italy. "We have 28 factories which make us the largest milk and cheese group in Italy, which is the country where the group has the largest production capacity after France with its 66 factories - underlines Besnier -. Then, the importance of the supply chain with 1,500 farmers from whom we collect 1.5 billion liters of milk which we transform in Italy".

In addition to the brands mentioned, Lactalis controls Invernizzi, Cademartori, Locatelli, Nuova Castelli (important producer of Grana Padano and Parmigiano Reggiano) in Italy.

Besnier talks about the investments in Italy which amount to "about 7 billion, including those made to grow the companies acquired, which return about 2 billion in revenues on the Italian market alone. Then -he adds- there are exports with made in Italy products. Let's take Galbani, emblematic: we launched it in the United States and in other countries, its activity has doubled but its productive and innovative heart has remained in Corteolona".

Such an intense activity that now, it is said, in France mozzarella is more consumed than Camembert. "We're at 50% - Besnier points out -. But most of that mozzarella is from Galbani, acquired in 2006, after Cademartori. In 2011 Parmalat let us enter all the categories of milk, before in Italy we only made cheese. L 'we delisted in 2019, it was a long journey but it allowed us to build a homogeneous entity, a team of people".

The next challenges? "A lot - replies the tycoon-. In 2022 we saw less dynamic countries and a milk price that marked +35%: this forced us to partially transfer the increases to prices, even if the effort to absorb them was great. It is what can be seen in the accounts of the group, which closed the year with a net result of 384 million euros, down by 14%.But we have never stopped investing: in 2022 we invested 750 million euros, 17% compared to a year earlier. With internal growth and the integration of acquired companies, such as the latest Leerdammer and Kraft Natural Cheese, we also decreased net debt, down to 6.4 billion".

For the future, Besnier adds, "we focus on industrial investments to accelerate their modernization, in the direction of sustainability. We have bet 200 million euros to reduce the environmental impact, one of the pillars of our social commitment, with a 25% cut of emissions within two years: the goal is to be Carbon Net Zero in 2050. We do this together with our agricultural supply chain, we also support it to improve animal nutrition.Then, we install photovoltaic systems on all production sites, push on cogeneration. Finally, there is the recycling of packaging: we want to achieve 100% eco-sustainable solutions, with a minimum of 30% recycled materials".

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EFA News - European Food Agency