Emmi buys top US feta producer from Lactalis

By Jim Cornall contact

- Last updated on GMT

Feta cheese is growing in popularity in the US and Athenos has developed into the leading feta brand. Pic: Emmi
Feta cheese is growing in popularity in the US and Athenos has developed into the leading feta brand. Pic: Emmi

Related tags: Emmi, Feta, Lactalis, Kraft heinz

The Emmi Group has acquired Athenos, the leader in the US feta market.

Swiss-headquartered Emmi said the deal strengthens its biggest export market and most important business segment in specialty cheeses.

With the acquisition of the Athenos business from the Lactalis Group, Emmi said this further strengthens its position in the US market and creates additional export opportunities for Swiss cheese due to its strengthened distribution. The Athenos business will be managed by Emmi Roth USA, which has been part of the Emmi Group since 2009.

Feta cheese is growing in popularity in the US and Athenos has developed into the leading feta brand. Last year, Athenos achieved net sales of almost $90m.

Kraft Heinz agreed to sell the Athenos business to a US affiliate of Lactalis Group in autumn 2020 as part of a natural cheese transaction previously announced by Kraft Heinz and the Lactalis Group. In fulfilment of conditions identified during the customary antitrust review by the US regulatory of that transaction, the Lactalis Group has agreed to sell the Athenos business on to Emmi. Emmi's acquisition of the Athenos business remains also subject to final approval by US regulators.

“With Athenos the number 1 in the US feta market will be joining Emmi. We are well suited for further developing this business successfully. It will strengthen our position in the strategically important US market and therefore also our growing export business from Switzerland as we can offer our customers an even more extensive and attractive range of products,”​ said Matthias Kunz, executive vice president, Division Americas at Emmi.

Athenos has a presence in the US retail sector and the food service sector.  Emmi Roth USA operates three production facilities in the state of Wisconsin and supplies retail and food service customers nationwide with specialty cheeses produced locally as well as some imported from Switzerland.

Emmi said feta cheese has benefited from the healthier-eating trend and further changes in consumer behavior over the past two years. Emmi expects the popularity of feta cheese in the US to grow even further.

The acquisition of Athenos and the integration of this business into Emmi Roth USA also offers growth potential in complementary distribution channels. In addition to its retail business, Emmi Roth USA has established customer relationships in the food service sector. In this segment, feta complements Emmi Roth USA’s cheese specialties for hot dishes. Simultaneously, the export business is expected to profit from the additional sales offering and therefore continue its positive trend from previous years. At the same time, Athenos can benefit from Emmi Roth USA’s marketing and approach new consumers through digital marketing and social media.

The transaction between Emmi and Lactalis essentially comprises the rights to the Athenos brand as well as other existing rights and contracts in connection with this business. The products themselves have been contract manufactured, processed and distributed to order for some years, and Emmi said it is keen to preserve this established value chain.

The parties have agreed not to disclose the purchase price.

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