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April 8, 2021updated 11 May 2021 5:43pm

France’s Charles & Alice in management buyout as PE firm Equistone exits

By Andy Coyne

Charles & Alice, the France-based fruit- and plant-based desserts business, is to buy out the controlling stake in the business owned by private-equity firm Equistone Partners Europe.

Following London-based Equistone’s exit – after eight years – Charles & Alice’s management team, led by chairman and shareholder Thierry Gourbault, will be backed by investor Crédit Mutuel Equity, which is providing a third successive round of financing to the company to support the buyout.

Crédit Mutuel was the majority investor in the business until Equistone invested and has retained a minority stake in the business.

Following the deal announced today (8 April), management will become the largest shareholder in Charles & Alice. The financial details of the buyout have not been disclosed and nor has the percentage stake now held by management.

Gourbault said: “The independence of the company is a strategic choice in the market for fruit and plant-based desserts, which is controlled by large agri-food groups. This is a challenge in this environment, but it is also a great source of motivation for all our teams, who see this new round of financing as an opportunity to continue working resolutely on the group’s future success.”

Jean-Christophe Vuillot, director at Crédit Mutuel Equity, said: “It was natural for us, as a long-term investor that has worked closely with the management team, to remain at their side to write this new chapter, in order to help this fine French mid-sized company preserve its independence and support its transformation and growth.”

Guillaume Jacqueau, managing partner at Equistone, said: "The management of Charles & Alice has done a remarkable job in expanding the product offering and developing in the United States through the establishment of a new production site.

"The group has become one of the leading French manufacturers and distributors of fruit compotes and desserts and we are convinced that Charles & Alice is well positioned to continue to consolidate its leadership position in the future."

Charles & Alice's turnover was EUR160m (US$190.1m) in 2020. The company sells its branded products in large and medium-sized stores and has expanded into contract catering, private-label products and international markets.

The company suggested its recent growth – of around 5% a year – is mainly due to the "development of its range of no-added-sugar fruit desserts and its ability to innovate in the search for new gourmet, differentiated and locally sourced recipes".

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