Foodiverse, the Spain-based fresh-produce supplier, is looking to expand its presence in salad products through M&A.

Federico Ponte, the company’s CFO, told Just Food the business, which has factories in four European markets, is in talks over a possible deal for a private-label supplier of bagged salads.

“In Europe, private label is what will succeed in this category in the future,” he said.

Ponte, who said Foodiverse was hoping to seal a transaction this year, did not disclose where the company’s target is based but did set out where the business needs to expand.

“The French market, we don’t have a presence there. The south of France, we can attack it from Spain and from the north of Italy where we have a company but, if we want to attack the north of France, we need a production plant in Belgium, France or the west of Germany. We want to be leaders of Germany, absolutely, and probably in Italy, we will have to develop something.”

In 2018, Foodiverse, then known as Grupo Alimentario Citrus, acquired Thurländer, a Germany-based producer of ready-to-eat salad products.

Of the company’s nine production plants in Europe, the majority are in Spain, with one each in Germany, Switzerland and Italy. Foodiverse, renamed last September, made two acquisitions in 2019 – Swiss company Josef Müller Gemüse and Italian group Novanatura.

Ponte said Foodiverse was more “cautious” about making acquisitions last year against the backdrop of Covid-19. He described 2020 as “a very challenging year”, in which the company’s sales fell almost 4% to EUR311.9m (US$369.9m).

Sales of its produce “straight from the field” rose, Ponte said, but the company’s ready-to-eat salads business suffered as the pandemic reduced mobility and shopping trips.

The first half of 2021 has been “much better”, the Foodiverse finance chief said, adding the company is forecasting its turnover will grow this year.

“I think that in the third quarter, we will be able to reach normal speed, with normal performance, but it will depend on the Delta variant and the crisis,” he said.

Foodiverse’s “fresh and ready” division, including its bagged salads, is its largest by sales, generating EUR190.6m in 2020. The “straight from the field” unit is its second-biggest business, with EUR93.6m last year.

Third is the company’s baby-food interests. Earlier this year, Foodiverse sold a 60% stake in Alimentación y Nutrición Familiar, also known as Alnut, to Italian investment group DeA Capital Alternative Funds.

Ponte said Foodiverse remained committed to the baby-food market. “We have the 40% of the shares and we are pushing a lot the growth of that business,” he said. “The reason that we look for a partner is because baby food is not in our core business and we can’t give it too much attention and too much time to grow. We look for financial partners that help us, using our company as a platform to grow inorganically and to keep pushing in growing organically.”