19 October 1933 marks the start of the Lactalis saga. On this day, André Besnier produces his first 17 camemberts in Laval, using 35 litres of milk collected from the surrounding area. And so the story begins, with André Besnier establishing the company under his own name.
André Besnier quickly surrounds himself with colleagues to help him on his adventure! The first brand name given to his camemberts “Le Petit Lavallois”, with its emblematic medieval Laval label, becomes a synonym of quality.
In 1930, André Besnier, a barrel maker at the time, sees one of his pieces break during a demonstration to buyers. He quickly overcomes the failure and becomes a cheesemaker.
One beautiful autumn day, he makes his first 17 camemberts at 52 Rue d’Avesnières in Laval,
Mayenne, France, using 35 litres of milk and assisted by just one employee.
The first page of a passion for dairy is written.
The 1940s confirm the company’s growth and an increased number of farmers are now supplying him with milk. In 1948, the company becomes “SARL Société Laitière de Laval A. Besnier & Cie”, a limited company, and the amount of milk collected pass the 10,000-litre mark. This milestone was made possible thanks to André Besnier’s dynamic and inventive business policy, now assisted by 25 employees.
Right from the start, the Besnier Company has the keys to success that remain its greatest asset 80 years later: a passion for milk, high-quality standards, business acumen and the ability to surround himself with the best people.
Seeing consumer demand, André Besnier’s company never ceases to grow from its creation, and now employs 25 people. The company then changes legal form to become a limited company (SARL), taking the name of “Société Laitière de Laval A. Besnier et Cie”.
By 1948, the supply of milk reaches 10,000 litres.
An astute businessman, André Besnier considerably develops his activity during the first half of the 1950s. As the dairy sector becomes more and more competitive, he diversifies his offer to produce butter and creams. Just like camembert which makes the Besnier Company’s reputation, rebranded as “Le Voyageur”, all the other products are subject to the same demands for quality, in order to achieve one simple goal —perfection.
An ambitious man, André Besnier also starts selling milk and is one of the first to launch a one-litre glass bottle of milk under the brand name “SSL Le Bon Lait”.
On the death of André Besnier in 1955, the company is inherited by his son Michel. As passionate as his father, Michel Besnier takes full advantage of the family’s entrepreneurial heritage and doubles its annual turnover in just two years.
Michel, son of André Besnier, takes the reins of the company following the sudden death of his father. Aged only 27, Michel Besnier already has significant experience within the cheese factory having worked at his father’s side since 1946.
With a favourable economic context of soaring consumer demand and new distribution models, the 1960s are a pivotal period for the company. Under the guidance of Michel Besnier, such factors will create the basis for the company’s success and its economic model: industrial expertise, quality and innovation, commitment to dairy processing, and strong external growth.
Many dairies from western France go on to join the Besnier company, thus expanding the volume of milk collected. They also contribute to the expansion of the product range and help to meet the requirements of supermarkets that are now starting to appear in France.
Michel Besnier knows that the industry is going through key changes and that he must be at the forefront. That is why he launches the Président brand which will become the Group’s flagship product. He also innovates with “Lait 2000”, the first milk to be sold in Tetra Pak package, which will deeply influence French consumers’ habits.
While cheese remains the company’s flagship product, other types of dairy products become more and more important for Maison Bresnier, especially milk. The company expands and opens its first production site outside of Laval. It is in Vitré, Ille-et-Vilaine, that he opens his first dairy.
The year 1968 marks a turning point for the company with the birth of Président camembert. Seeking a prestigious and universal brand name, Michel Besnier comes up with “Président”. It is pronounced easily in many languages and is highly inclusive, as anyone can become president.
Milk collection increases to the extent that the company no longer knows what to do with the skimmed milk surpluses. As a good manager and a dedicated professional, Michel Besnier refuses to waste it.
Robert Chevalier, production manager, convinces Michel Besnier to extend the product range by entering the milk powder market. This commitment is clearly seen today as the site now handles 120,000 litres per hour.
The UHT milk produced in Vitré in Tetra Pak cartons is sold for the first time in France under the brand “Lait 2000”. Easy storage and lasting flavour make it an immediate hit.
The Besnier Company takes its first steps into the United States market, notably with brie, a cheese much favoured by transatlantic customers. In 1972, convinced of the potential of the Président brand and its camembert, Michel Besnier takes a bold step by creating a brand new modern cheese factory for Président in Domfront, in the pastures of Normandy. Featuring the latest innovations, the Domfront cheese factory remains a landmark facility and the largest soft cheese plant.
Visionary, Michel Besnier sees the opportunity in supermarkets and the revolution in consumer habits. He is among the first to develop this market, acting on the new consumer demands.
The company continues to grow in France and internationally. The first steps outside of the country are possible thanks to a soft cheese that is very much appreciated by the Americans: brie. This allows the company to see growth in its sales abroad.
Convinced that Président camembert will be a success, Michel Besnier designs a new cheese plant fully dedicated to the product in Domfront, Normandy.
The vast dimensions and technological innovations at the site are needed for the world’s first coagulator. This means that the plant can produce 50,000 to 250,000 camemberts per day.
Today, the Domfront site produces 520,000 camemberts per day.
Lepetit, another family business, joins the Lactalis Group. This camembert brand created in 1872 reinforces the Group’s position on the French cheese market.
In the meantime, the Président brand also continues to grow. After camembert, other Président branded products such as butter and Emmental become successful. Consumers quickly get aware that Président is a guarantee of quality. Following the high demand, a new dedicated unit is opened in 1978 in Isigny-le-Buat. At the time, the plant produces 50 tonnes of butter per day; today it produces over 200 tonnes.
Spurred on by the dynamism of the previous decade, the 1980s are a period of rapid development for Michel Besnier, with external growth operations, particularly in the United States. The company lands in the US in 1981, in Belmont (Wisconsin) through an acquisition, reinforced six years later by the construction of a factory in California.
Loyal to his origins, Michel Besnier does not forget the development of activities in France. In the early 1980s he acquires the cheese dairies Claudel-Roustang and Atlalait, now half of the company, and which bring him into the goat’s cheese segment.
In parallel, in 1984 and 1985, Michel Besnier continues to invest in industrial tools and builds a yoghurt production site in Laval, followed by a cheese production site dedicated to emmental in Charchigné in northern Mayenne, convinced that this market will develop soon.
The final acquisition of the 1980s is not the least, as Lactel will rapidly go on to become the company’s flagship brand for drinking milk.
Société Atlalait joins the company allowing it to extend its milk collection area in western France, especially in Vendée and Loire-Atlantique. This acquisition also brings something new commercially, as it marks the Group’s entry to the goat cheese market.
Following this acquisition, Michel Besnier now has 27 production sites.
After a period of exporting, the Group sets up in the United States. It buys a cheddar production site, which will later become a production site for pasteurised brie in order to meet the needs of the American market.
At the same time, the Marketing Director Jean Droin launches Président oval butter packaging. The packaging was highly innovative at the time, ensuring optimal conservation of butter and very easy to use packaging.
An agreement is signed with Nestlé France for a 50% share in the eight Claudel-Roustang plants. This new acquisition strengthens the Group’s national foothold, expanding its milk collection area to the east of the country.
When Michel Besnier decides to ensure the development of his business in the ultra-fresh category, he chooses to install his new production unit in Laval, which remains among the strongest sites for this category in the Group today.
In the meantime, the company acquires a 45% share in the Economic Interest Grouping (Groupement d’Intérêt Economique, GIE) under the brand Lactel. Michel Besnier had understood the importance of being present on the drinking milk market with a brand powerful enough to fully play out a competitive role.
In 1985, Emmental production is transferred to western France (to Charchigné in Mayenne), a region where dairy production is the strongest. On this growing market, the company innovates and launches ‘Président Emmental cœur de meule’, which becomes very successful very quickly. At that time, the cheese plant produces 4,000 tonnes of Emmental, a volume now ten times higher.
In 1987, the Group opens a new plant in Turlock, California. After a first acquisition in the United States six years earlier, this event accelerates the company’s growth on the other side of the Atlantic.
Société Besnier acquires all shares in the Economic Interest Group (EIG), and Lactel becomes its flagship brand for drinking milk, supported by a high level of innovation and a strong advertising campaign. That is how it becomes the first company to sell its milk in triple-layered plastic bottles, showing innovation on the market and in French consumer habits.
With business going well, Michel Besnier decides to pursue growth in Eastern Europe, Ukraine and Poland, and also in Egypt and Italy, “the other cheese country”, taking steps into the emblematic mozzarella sector with the acquisition of Locatelli, the third-largest mozzarella brand on the market.
In France in 1990, two major companies join the Besnier Group: historical rival Bridel and the Société des Caves de Roquefort.
In 1999, the Besnier Company changes the Group name to Lactalis, meeting the demands of internationalisation with a name that can be pronounced easily on all five continents.
That same year, at the site of the historic cheese factory in Laval, Michel Besnier launches the André Besnier Lactopôle, a museum in tribute to the dairy profession.
It takes some very long negotiations before being able to finalize the deal. It is a considerable change in size for the company to integrate Bridel, another family business known and recognised by consumers, that is almost half the size of the Besnier Company at the time.
Through this operation, the affiliate Lanquetot joins the company together with its brand much-loved by consumers of Normandy cheeses.
Committed to cover all dairy products, the company strengthens its yoghurt and desserts category through the acquisition of Janjac and its brand B’A, then a pioneer of active bifidus.
Faithful to its commitment to the protected designation of origin (PDO) cheese market, the company acquires Société des Caves de Roquefort which considerably strengthens its position on the PDO market.
The same year, Lactel innovates and launches its Eveil de Lactel brand.
Thanks to its recognised and masterful industrial expertise, the company only takes seven years to position itself as the market leader of Emmental. The Charchigné plant is no longer sufficient to meet the demand, and a second unit is built in Bouvron, Loire-Atlantique, in 1994.
As with the US, eastern countries are seeing progressive growth, made possible thanks to the international growth of the Président brand in the 1990s. Poland and Ukraine benefit first from the company’s investments, restarting the operation of the Nikolaïev Cooperative in Ukraine and the company Polser in Poland.
The Group made a big impact on the Egyptian market by introducing a processed cheese, adapting to the food habits of these new consumers. This is how Président enters the Egyptian market, before being extended throughout the Middle East.
To grow on the Italian cheesemaking market, the company begins production of the famous mozzarella cheese through the acquisition of Locatelli, the third biggest mozzarella brand in the country at that time, after Galbani and Invernizzi. This first step into “another cheese country” marks the beginning of an ongoing development.
To confirm its international growth, the company decides to change name to Lactalis, to be better understood and pronounced in the four corners of the planet, and to refer to its core business, milk.
Despite this new name, the shareholding remains within the family Besnier. And, on the other hand, Michel Besnier confirms his commitment to the company founded by his father and his passion for dairy processing by inaugurating in October 1999 the Lactopôle André Besnier, a museum dedicated to the history of the dairy industry, at the historic site of the former Laval cheese plant.
This new decade sadly begins with the loss of Michel Besnier, a devastating event for all employees. However the company maintains its family ownership in the hands of his son Emmanuel Besnier.
Despite a difficult economic context in the wake of the financial crisis of 2008, the Lactalis Group maintains a steady level of growth, sustained since the early 2000s. The two major events of this period take place in 2006, with the acquisition of the flagship Italian brand Galbani, and the creation of a European joint venture for chilled dairy products with Nestlé, which allows the brands and in particular La Laitière to return to profitable growth.
The following year, the leading Croatian dairy company Dukat joins the Lactalis Group.
After the sudden death of his father, Emmanuel Besnier takes the reins of the Group and thus ensures a continued family approach.
Having worked for the past six years at his father’s side on the international development of the Group, Emmanuel Besnier leaves his mark very quickly, boosting unprecedented international growth.
By building a cheese spread production site near Moscow, Lactalis crosses a decisive step in the CIS region and considerably strengthens its position on the Eastern Europe cheese market.
With the integration of the company Invernizzi, the Lactalis Group becomes the second biggest Italian cheesemaker. Italy then becomes the third country within the Group in terms of sales, after France and the United States.
Lactalis also continues its expansion in France with the acquisition of Cema, another family-run agro-food company. Its brand Primevère positions itself as the brand of reference for the vegetable fats category, key in the fight against cholesterol.
This year includes a significant number of acquisitions outside of France. In particular, FoodMaster International established in Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Moldova, as well as the Kurow Cooperative which produces the famous Twarog in Poland, allow the Group to consolidate its positions in continental Europe.
After its initial success in Egypt, the Group strengthens its presence in the region through the construction of a new production unit near Cairo, signs a second franchise in Egypt and acquires the company UFIC in Saudi Arabia.
The Lactalis Group does not abandon Europe though, where it acquires the Scottish cheddar specialist Mc Lelland, and the Italian company Cademartori that makes the traditional Lombard cheeses such as the PDO Gorgonzola, Taleggio and Quartirolo.
With the acquisition of the Italian company Galbani, Lactalis becomes the number one company on the Italian cheese market, offering a broad offer from traditional cheeses to mozzarella.
At the same time, Lactalis and Nestlé create a joint venture in the chilled products sector (LNCD, Lactalis Nestlé Chilled Dairy), to strengthen brands such as La Laitière in Europe.
Lactalis Group becomes the third biggest dairy company in the world through these two operations.
Dukat benefits from a modern, creative and high-quality image, making it the Croatian leader for dairy products. Through this acquisition, Lactalis firmly establishes itself in south-eastern Europe where it continues to strengthen and develop.
The Group enters the infant nutrition market with the acquisition of the company Célia, a family-run company from Mayenne producing the Chaussé aux Moines cheese, Le Marin butter and the Picot children’s milk powder.
Meanwhile, the Group continues its European growth through acquisitions in Czech Republic, Ukraine and Spain. The company also promotes its American development by buying Mozzarella Fresca in the United States.
Despite the difficult economic environment, the Company strengthens its place as the third worldwide leader on the dairy market and acquires the company Obory in Poland, the cheesemaker Baër in Switzerland, and takes over the French activity of Milupa-Nutricia, whose products are complementary to the ones of Celia brand. The latter operation confirms Lactalis Group’s position on the nutrition market.
Resuming ultra-fresh activity for Nestlé in Egypt, Lactalis confirms its major role and position on the dairy products market of this country.
After Italy, Spain becomes a major market for Lactalis in 2010 with the acquisition of three Iberian dairy companies: Forlasa, Puleva and Sanutri, respectively operating on the cheese, drinking milk and infant nutrition markets.
2011 is the year when the Lavallois Group positions itself as a global leader in dairy products, becoming a majority shareholder in Parmalat, the leading Italian drinking milk company with over 14,000 employees, and achieving a turnover of almost 4 billion dollars. The company operates globally in territories where the Lactalis Group has few or no operations, thus providing excellent complementary coverage. Operating at this level, Lactalis is able to pursue dynamic and profitable growth both in its traditional mature markets and in developing countries. Drinking milk becomes the Group’s second most important market after cheese.
In 2013, the company increases its foothold in South Eastern Europe as it becomes a majority shareholder in Slovenian company Ljubljanske Mlekarne, the leading local dairy producer.
The Lactalis Group pursues development in Australia in 2014 through the company Harvey Fresh which allows the Group to cover all daily categories across Australia. It also expands into India with the acquisition of Tirumala, a major dairy company in south-eastern part of the country.
2010 is the year of Spain for Lactalis. The Group makes three acquisitions and becomes the local leader for dairy products. Forlasa, Puleva and Sanutri are indeed perfectly complementary, playing different roles in the dairy categories.
Forlasa is the historical market leader of manchego, a famous local cheese. Puleva strengthens the Group’s fortified milk and infant nutrition lines, being in second place in Spain. Finally, Sanutri is an expert in infant nutrition.
Meanwhile, the Group seeks to grow and resumes production at cheesemaker Efremov in Russia, the dairy Rachel’s in the United Kingdom, and establishes itself in Australia through Melbourne-based cheesemaker Lemnos.
A major event in the dairy industry history, Lactalis makes an important international acquisition. It acquires 83.3% of the shares in Italian company Parmalat and becomes the world’s biggest dairy group. Thanks to its perfect geographical and category situation, Lactalis consolidates its leadership on the cheese market and through Parmalat becomes world number one for the drinking milk market. Since then, loyal to its commitments, the Group invests regularly and massively in the modernisation and the development of its production capacity to support its brands
The company Skänemejerier, number two on the dairy market in Sweden, joins the Lactalis Group. With a large presence on the drinking milk market. The Swedish company is very rounded as it is present in all dairy categories.
The Group becomes the main shareholder of Ljubljanske Mlekarne, the top Slovenian dairy processor.
The same year, faithful to its commitment on the PDO cheese market, Lactalis acquires the cheesemakers Soron and Dauphiné, respectively based in the Puy-de-Dôme and Isère, in France.
The company Tirumala, located in south-eastern India, joins the Lactalis Group, evidencing a new move into Asia, with eight production sites and a strong regional brand.
This same year, the Group strengthens its development in Australia with the acquisition of the Harvey Fresh company.
With the takeover of 80% of Ak Gida dairy Company (which is part of one of the most important Turkish food company), Lactalis realized its first step in the country. Local leader, Ak Gida employs more than 2,000 employees, processing more than 1 bL of milk in its five plants. Ak Gida exports its production in more than 40 countries in the region.
Moreover, the Lactalis Group strengthens its position in South-America, consolidating its acquisitions in Brazil signed in 2014, and integrating the Mexican dairy Company, Esmeralda, which operates in Mexico, Uruguay and Argentina.
At last, in Europe, where Lactalis is continuing its development, the Hungarian company Kuntej is now part of the Group.
In 2016, the Lactalis Group continues to invest in its manufacturing sites in France in order to support its development. Incidentally, in line with its commitment to PDO cheeses, it acquires the Graindorge cheese making plant, a major player in PDO cheeses from the Normandy region. At the same time, the Group strengthens its presence in Romania with the purchase of Albalact, the local leader in dairy products. In India, the acquisition of Anik Industries’ dairy division, which has a strong foothold in the north of the country, comes as the perfect complement to Tirumala, which joined the Group in 2014 and is situated in the south-east.