General Mills looks to sell its Yoplait brand

21 Oct 2020

General Mills is looking to potentially offload its controlling stake in Yoplait, according to the French industry publication L’Agefi. The company is working with Morgan Stanley as it considers a sale.

The American corporation, known for Cheerios and Häagen-Dazs, has held a 51% stake in the company since 2011, which it purchased for $1.2 billion. The remaining 49% of the yogurt company belongs to French dairy cooperative Sodiaal, which l’Agefi reported has the first right of refusal if General Mills chooses to pursue a sale of the brand.

General Mills looks to sell its Yoplait brand

While French media speculated which companies would be interested to pick up a brand whose sales have been slipping for several years, there are at least two large competitors that are automatically ruled out. L’Agefi reported that sources familiar with the original deal signed between General Mills and Sodiaal said there is a provision in the contract that expressly prohibits the sale of Yoplait to either Nestlé or Lactalis.

This exclusion does leave other potential buyers such as Danone and private equity firms. In recent years, private equity has taken a deep interest in investing in the food and beverage space, and firms have purchased dozens of flagging brands to reinvigorate them and turn a profit. Still, Sodiaal may very well choose to buy back the brand for what is estimated to be a $3 billion sales price tag. This dairy cooperative is reportedly counseled by Rothschild & Co.

Even though the yogurt category has declined since 2015 when Mintel data shows it peaked at $9 billion in sales, Yoplait remains a popular brand. Its sales were up 5% in the most recent earnings report, Food Dive reported. Statista data show that the U.S. sales for this yogurt brand were $906.7 million in 2019.

Still, there has been a fragmentation within the category since Yoplait reigned as the second-largest brand in the overall yogurt category nine years ago. Greek, Icelandic skyr and plant-based varieties have hit shelves in recent years and diluted the dominance of the French classic.

If General Mills does try to offload this brand that has been weighing on its earnings, it will not be a small task. M&A has slowed during the pandemic, and many companies are looking to offload unprofitable brands as they search to shore up cash and prepare themselves for an uncertain market ahead.

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