The family-owned companies have announced they are have entered into “an exclusive negotiation process” over Sweet Products’ plan to acquire Cémoi.

“Within a few months, subject to legal consultation and the authorisation of relevant competition authorities, this project could make it possible to create the number one group in the world in terms of chocolates under private labels, and to develop significant positions in branded segments,” the companies said in a joint statement.

In September, French newspaper Les Echos reported Cémoi, which has a turnover of roughly EUR750m, had decided to open up its capital and look for investment.

“Staying on a family model is an anomaly, given the size of the group,” Patrick Poirrier, Cémoi’s president, was quoted as saying at the time.

Combined, the new group would generate a turnover of “more than” EUR1.2bn, have 24 factories and employ more than 5,000 staff.

Sweet Products, which owns businesses including chocolate maker Baronie Group and ice-cream maker Belgian Ice Cream, runs seven chocolate factories located across Belgium, the Netherlands Germany and Switzerland, two ice-cream production sites in Belgium and a caramel facility in the UK.

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The company sells products under brands including Jacques, Duc d’O and Ijsboerke but its production is principally for private label products.

Cémoi has 14 factories, including nine in France, and has 3,200 employees. Its production network also includes a cocoa bean facility in Cote d’Ivoire. The company’s products are sold to retailers, foodservice operators and manufacturers.