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June 8, 2021

US PE firm Ronin buys up three local cheese businesses

The New York investment firm has plans to bring its purchases together to create a new entity.

New York-based private-equity firm Ronin Equity Partners has acquired local cheese businesses Red Apple Cheese, Barron County Cheese and Cheese Brothers.

It plans to create a new business based on its acquisitions which it said will be “a platform for gourmet and savoury food consolidation across specialty cheese, cured meat, and charcuterie”.

The deals – for an undisclosed sum – were all transacted with founders and management teams who will continue to “hold significant minority stakes” in the newly-configured business, a spokesperson told Just Food.

West Watertown, Connecticut-based Red Apple Cheese makes smoked, flavoured and kosher speciality cheeses which it sells through major retailers including Safeway, Wegmans and Wal-Mart, as well as independent stores.

Wisconsin-based Barron County Cheese is a smoker and co-packer for the specialty cheese industry and sells products through its shop and online.

It has close ties to Cheese Brothers, a speciality cheese business also based in Barron County, Wisconsin, which has traditionally sold its products at farmers’ markets but has built up an e-commerce business during the coronavirus lockdown period.

Ronin said the combined company will be an “omni-channel and vertically-integrated market leader in smoked, flavoured, and kosher cheese, as well as an independent brand consolidator in a fragmented US premium cheese and charcuterie market”.

Gene Graf, co-founder of Cheese Brothers and Barron County Cheese, said: “We’re creating a powerful combination of ambitious companies, steeped in family-owned Wisconsin and New England traditions, and Ronin, which has the operational and market expertise in the cheese and consumer packaged goods space to turbocharge growth.”

Graf will lead operations for the new company while Cheese Brothers’ other co-founder, Eric Ludy, will lead marketing and e-commerce alongside one of Ronin’s partners, Tiffany Bell, who will become CFO.

The as yet unnamed group will be led by David Toy, who is joining as CEO from his previous role as chief commercial officer of Sauer Brands. He was previously at Kraft Heinz, where he led the foodservice business.

Ronin managing partner David Feierstein said: “We want to enable motivated, passionate founders and executives in fragmented industries, using our financial muscle and operational expertise to execute accelerated roll-ups.”

The private-equity firm was founded by Feierstein and Jesse Yao alongside other former senior executives from Kraft Heinz, NCR, and Diversey.

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