Sales: EUR 1.25 billion ($1.10 billion)(2002)
Stock Exchanges: Euronext Paris
Ticker Symbol: BON
NAIC: 311421 Fruit and Vegetable Canning; 311411 Frozen Fruit, Juice, and Vegetable Processing
Based near Lille, France, Bonduelle SA is Europe’s leading producer of prepared vegetables. The company operates in three primary markets: Canned Vegetables, Frozen Vegetables, and Fresh Vegetables. Canned Vegetables is Bonduelle’s historic activity and accounts for 57 percent of its revenues; the company is European leader in this category, with 30 percent of the market. The company markets its canned vegetables under the brands Bonduelle, Cassegrain, and, in Belgium, Marie Thumas. Frozen Vegetables represents 29 percent of the company sales, giving it the position as number two European producer in this market. The company’s frozen vegetable offering includes “classic” vegetables as well as prepared, ready-to-heat meals. Fresh Vegetables—such as salads and prepared, ready-to-eat vegetables—accounts for 17 percent of the company’s sales and is also Bonduelle’s fastest-growing market. Despite entering this market only in the late 1990s, Bonduelle has quickly captured the European lead, notably through an aggressive acquisition program. Nearly half of the company’s sales, which topped EUR 1.25 billion at the end of its 2002 year (in July 2002), came from outside of France. While Europe represents the company’s primary market, Bonduelle has been present in North and South America since the late 1990s. Bonduelle is listed on the Euronext Paris Stock Exchange’s secondary market but remains majority owned by the founding Bonduelle family.
Canning Success Begins in the 1920s
Bonduelle began as an offshoot of the Bonduelle family grain and food oil farm in France’s Nord Region. In 1853, two members of the Bonduelle family, Louis Bonduelle and Louis Lesaffre joined together to open a grain alcohol distillery in Marquette-sur-Lille. That business prospered, and the family added a second distillery nearby, in Renescure. By the end of the century, the family’s business included seven distilleries. At that time, the family decided to divide up the assets among its three main branches.
The Bonduelle branch continued to run a family farm. In the 1920s, the family spotted a new opportunity in the development of new canning equipment. The Bonduelles purchased sterilizing and other equipment and planted their first crop for canning: peas in 1926. The original crop was based on a 20-hectare plot, yielding some 120 tons of canned peas.
Demand for canned vegetables soared in the 1930s, and in 1936 the Bonduelle company increased planting to 230 hectares. Bonduelle expanded its canning facilities as well. Yet the company restricted itself to producing and canning, turning over marketing and distribution to another company.
The German invasion of France in 1940 put an end to the company’s activity. Production did not begin again until the end of the war. Soon after, instead of turning to its former distributor, Bonduelle decided to place its own name on its products, launching the Bonduelle brand in 1947. Bonduelle quickly became a widely recognized brand name for canned peas. The growth of the Bonduelle brand soon outpaced the company’s own farm production, and Bonduelle began putting into place a network of farmer suppliers in the Nord region.
The mid-1950s saw the company’s breakthrough. In 1957, Bonduelle introduced a new product, canned peas and carrots, which established the Bonduelle brand as one of the leading names in the French canned vegetables market. Bonduelle continued to build on its success, putting into place quality standards that contributed to boosting the brand’s reputation.
Bonduelle continued to expand during the 1960s, adding a new production facility in Estrées-en-Chaussée, in the Picardie region, in 1963. The company then moved into other prime agricultural areas in France. At the end of that decade, Bonduelle expanded its operations, adding an entirely new component—that of frozen vegetables. The new product line proved a success on the French market, confirming Bonduelle’s reputation as a vegetable specialist.
International Expansion in the Late 1960s
Bonduelle also expanded beyond France, opening its first foreign subsidiary in Germany in 1969. That was followed in 1972 by the opening of a subsidiary in Italy, then in the United Kingdom in 1973. The export market quickly became a crucial one for Bonduelle. By the mid-1970s, half of the company’s sales came from outside of France.
Bonduelle’s expansion had brought it into new contact with a number of new crops, including corn and mushrooms, both added at the end of the 1970s. While mushrooms remained a more limited category for the company, the growth in sales of canned corn sales led the company to establish a dedicated facility for that product in Labenne, in the French southwest, in 1978.
Bonduelle’s international expansion continued into the next decade. In 1980, the company turned to Belgium, acquiring Marie Thumas, a major supplier of canned vegetables in that country. A move into the Netherlands followed in 1982. The company next turned to Spain, acquiring Malagro as the basis of a new subsidiary for that country in 1986.
By then, Bonduelle’s leadership had been taken over by Bruno Bonduelle. The new generation of the Bonduelle family proved highly ambitious, launching the company toward a new goal: that of becoming the European leader by the early 1990s. For this, Bonduelle stepped up its acquisition drive, acquiring a new corn canning facility in southwest France and launching a new subsidiary and factory, Primeurop, in 1987. The following year, the company purchased Talpe, based in Belgium, adding that company’s factory in Kortemark. Bonduelle also moved into Portugal, building a new production plant there.
By the end of the 1980s, Bonduelle had already captured the lead in several individual European markets, including Germany, the Netherlands, and Belgium. It had also gained the position of Europe’s leading canned and frozen vegetable producer. In 1989, the company cemented that lead through the acquisition of Cassegrain, a producer of high-end canned vegetable products. That acquisition gave Bonduelle the lead position in the French market as well. Meanwhile, Bonduelle had stepped up its marketing campaign, launching the successful slogan, “Quand c’est bon, c’est Bonduelle” (“When it’s good, it’s Bonduelle”).
Global Expansion Effort for the New Century
By the beginning of the 1990s, Bonduelle’s sales had topped FFr 4.3 billion (approximately EUR 655 million). Bonduelle had also expanded into a number of new markets, including Denmark in 1989. The company was quick to seize on the opportunity presented by the end of the Cold War, entering East Germany in 1990, then launching new subsidiaries in the Czech Republic, Poland, and Hungary in 1991 and 1992. These were followed by entries in Russia and Slovenia in 1994.
Bonduelle, by then led by Christophe Bonduelle and Daniel Bracquart—the first non-family member to head the company—also turned to South America, launching a joint-venture with Iansa in Chile in 1992, then opening a subsidiary in Brazil in 1994. In 1996, the company added another Latin American subsidiary, in Argentina.
By the mid-1990s, Bonduelle’s sales neared FFr 5 billion. Yet the company’s core product markets, canned and frozen vegetables, had matured, and the company’s growth slowed. In response, Bonduelle sought entry into a new and promising market: that of prepared fresh vegetables. Bonduelle found its entry point in 1997 with the acquisition of French fresh vegetables specialist Salade Minute. The purchase, which gave Bonduelle four new factories and business of more than FFr 400 million, enabled the company to launch a new brand, Bonduelle en Frais. Targeting at first the restaurant sector, the new brand was rolled out to the consumer market in 1998.
The move into the fresh vegetables sector completed Bonduelle’s prepared vegetables offering. The company, which, in addition to its European lead in canned vegetables, held the second place spot in the frozen vegetables segment, now sought to build a leadership position in fresh vegetables as well. In order to fund this effort and the company’s further expansion, Bonduelle went public in 1998, listing on the Paris Stock Exchange’s secondary market. The Bonduelle family nonetheless maintained majority control of the company.
Bonduelle is an acknowledged player in the vegetable market. In this sector, which is changing rapidly and where techniques are continually improving, the vegetable expert makes its expertise count. For more than 70 years, Bonduelle has experienced continuous, rapid expansion.
Thanks to its constant desire for innovation, in an increasingly competitive market Bonduelle develops extensive ranges of specialities which are creative and easy to use. The vegetable is no longer a simple accompaniment to the main dish; it is a whole separate product area, highly developed and personalized.
Bonduelle’s products are aimed at consumers in all the classic distribution channels (hypermarkets, mini-markets) and the Food Service sector (restaurants, canteens) with extensive and diverse ranges.
Following the stock listing, Bonduelle opened new subsidiaries, entering the United States for the first time, as well as launching its first subsidiary in Africa, in Zimbabwe. In 1999, the company returned to external growth with the acquisition of Avril, also based in the north of France, with operations in Italy as well. That acquisition strengthened the company’s position as a private-label producer for supermarket groups. The company then reorganized its operating structure, separating its activities into five independently operating divisions.
After launching the Bonduelle en Frais brand in Italy in 1999 and in Germany in 2000, the company made a new acquisition, of Italy’s Cielo e Campo, the number two Italian producer of fresh prepared vegetable products. The company also deepened its position in Spain, acquiring former Unilever subsidiary Frudesa, a specialist in frozen vegetables, at the end of 2000. Then, at the beginning of 2001, Bonduelle acquired Ortobell, the Italian leader of the fresh vegetable segment, giving Bonduelle not only the lead in Italy but also a leading position in that category across Europe. The company then merged its Italy holdings into a single subsidiary.
Bonduelle continued to target new expansion opportunities in 2002. In June of that year, the company agreed to acquire Inter Champ, a Polish subsidiary of struggling France Champignon. The acquisition added mushrooms, long a weak link in Bonduelle’s chain of more than 240 vegetables. The acquisition agreement also called for an eventual Bonduelle takeover of all canned and frozen production for France Champignon in Europe. Bonduelle looked back on more than 75 years as a vegetable specialist, and forward to a future as a continued leader in its core markets.
Agrilusa, Agro-Industria; Agrologica; Appetifrais S.A.; Avril Alimentaire SNC; Bonduelle Belgium; Bonduelle Cesko-slovensko; Bonduelle Espagnola; Bonduelle Espana; Bonduelle Frais Investissements; Bonduelle GmbH; Bonduelle Great-Britain; Bonduelle Iberica; Bonduelle Incorporated; Bonduelle Investment Company; Bonduelle Italia; Bonduelle Moscou; Bonduelle Nagykoros; Bonduelle Nederland; Bonduelle Nord Europa; Bonduelle Nordic; Bonduelle Osterreich; Bonduelle Polska; Bonduelle Portugal; Bonduelle Slovensko; Bonduelle Sud Europe; Bonduelle Zimbabwe; Bonmais; Bouclet Zunequin; Duvet; Iansa Bonduelle; Nieuwe Marie-Thumas; Primeurop; SCI Revoisson; Salade Minute; Salade Minute Traiteur; Sud Ouest Legumes; Vinet Bernard et Louis SCEA.
Unilever PLC; PepsiCo Inc.; Diageo PLC; Groupe Danone; H.J. Heinz Co; Dean Foods Co.; Tomkins PLC; McCain Foods Ltd.; Orkla ASA; Quaker Oats Co.; Parmalat SpA; Reckitt Benckiser plc; Dole Food Company Inc.; Sudzucker AG; Clorox Co.; Koninklijke Wessanen nv; COPEC ; Danisco A/S; Kikkoman Corp; Nestle Holdings UK PLC; CSM NV; Kerry Group plc; Chiquita Brands International Inc.; Ebro Puleva SA; Unilever Bestfoods Inc.; Golden State Foods Corp.; Borden Inc.; Del Monte Foods Co.; Cumberland Farms Inc.; Diversified Food Products; Coopagri Bretagne; Agrilink Foods Inc.; Royal Cosun.
- Louis Bonduelle and Louis Leaffre-Roussel found a grain and juniper distillery near Lille, France.
- The Bonduelle family begins a pea canning operation.
- The Bonduelles begin producing frozen vegetables.
- The company establishes its first foreign subsidiary in Germany.
- Marie-Thumas of Belgium is acquired and Bonduelle becomes the leading canned vegetable company in that country.
- Bonduelle acquires Cassegrain to become the leading producer of canned vegetables in France.
- The company begins production of chilled vegetables and makes a public offering on the Euronext Paris Stock Exchange’s secondary market.
- Bonduelle acquires Avril/Cirio France, producers of private label canned vegetables.
- The company restructures into five autonomous subsidiaries; Cielo e Campo of Italy is acquired.
- Bonduelle acquires Inter Champ, in Poland, and adds canned and frozen mushrooms to its line of products.
Besses-Boumard, Pascale, “Bonduelle va mettre de 15 à 20 % de son capital en Bourse,” Les Echos, May 28, 1998, p. 12.
“Bonduelle Acquires Unilever’s Frozen Vegetables Activities in Spain,” European Report, December 6, 2000.
“Bonduelle prêt à des acquisitions,” Les Echos, October 19, 2000, p. 17.
“Bonduelle to Acquire Italian Fresh Vegetables Group,” European Report, February 21, 2001.
“Bonduelle to Buy France Champignon Subsidiary,” Eurofood, June 20, 2002, p. 6.
Flallo, Laurent, “Bonduelle en quête d’opportunités en Europe,” Les Echos, May, 4, 2001, p. 15.
Le Cocq, François, “Un terrien bien implanté chez Bonduelle,” Nouvel Economiste, December 12, 1997.
“Strong Growth at Bonduelle,” Eurofood, February 14, 2002 p. 5.
—M. L. Cohen