The seven co-operatives that make up French dairy group Sodiaal, best known for its Candia and Yoplait brands, have merged into a single entity. 

Now trading as Sodiaal Union, the group has elected Gérard Budin as its first president.

Commenting on the merger, Budin said the group was now in a position to be a major player in the sector, comparable in terms of size with co-operatives in northern Europe like Denmark's Arla Foods and Campina in the Netherlands.    

With a turnover of just over EUR2bn (US$2.9bn), Sodiaal collects 2.3bn litres of milk annually from 10,000 suppliers - the equivalent of 10% of France's total production.

Currently awaiting EU approval on a powdered milk joint venture with Entremont Alliance, Sodiaal is also keen to recover the 50% stake in Yoplait and regain full control of one of its prize assets.

Sodiaal sold half the Yoplait business to investment fund PAI in 2002. Under the terms of the deal, PAI has had right to relinquish its stake in Yoplait, which is valued at around EUR800m, from July.

PAI has yet to give any indication of what its intentions are. The stake has also attracted interest from French dairy group Lactalis.