Glaces Thiriet S.A.

views updated

Glaces Thiriet S.A.

Zone Industrielle
Telephone: +33 03 29 64 64 64
Fax: +33 03 29 64 64 44
Web site:

Private Company
Employees: 2,550
Sales: EUR 290 million ($350 million) (2004)
NAIC: 311520 Ice Cream and Frozen Dessert Manufacturing; 445110 Supermarkets and Other Grocery (Except Convenience) Stores; 445299 All Other Specialty Food Stores; 311412 Frozen Specialty Food Manufacturing; 311411 Frozen Fruit, Juice, and Vegetable Processing

Glaces Thiriet S.A. is the third largest manufacturer of ice cream in France, trailing only multinational giants Unilever and Nestlé. The company is also France's leading manufacturer of frozen pastries and other desserts. Yet Thiriet also has built up a presence among that country's top frozen food retail specialists, with more than 150 stores located throughout France offering nearly 1,200 frozen food items. Most of the items sold in Thiriet stores feature the company's own brand names, including Thiriet and Prelande. Thiriet also carries a number of brand names, typically from the high-end bracket and not commonly found in the larger supermarket channel. In addition to its retail store network, Thiriet is present in France's frozen foods home delivery segment. In support of these operations, the company operates a fleet of more than 400 trucks, backed by a network of 75 distribution centers and staffed by a 1,000-strong sales force. Thiriet's home delivery sales are preordered through the company's 30-page catalog. Founded by Claude Thiriet in the early 1970s, Glaces Thiriet remains a privately held, independent company.

From Baker to Ice Cream Maker in the 1960s

The Thiriet family operated a bakery in the village of Eloyes, in the Vosges region of France. In 1966, Claude Thiriet, then just 22 years old, joined his mother at the bakery, where he began producing his own ice cream, in addition to the bakery's breads and pastries. Thiriet's ice creams quickly gained a reputation for their high quality, attracting customers from throughout the region.

Thiriet's reputation soon reached the attention of the country's wholesalers and growing distribution companies. France was then undergoing a revolution in its retail sector. Traditionally based on small, locally oriented and independently owned grocery shops, the retail sector had begun a shift toward the rapidly growing supermarket format. By the early 1970s, the country had seen the opening of the first hypermarketscombining the supermarket and department store formatsas well. Whereas the smaller grocers had only limited shelf space and focused on basic foods, the supermarket format provided the space for an extensive variety of items, including expanded frozen foods sections. Attracted by the high quality of Thiriet's ice creams, the wholesalers encouraged the bakery to invest in larger-scale production for the supermarket sector.

The supermarket format favored the emergence of a small number of large-scale retail groups operating on a regional and then national scale. The development of these supermarket groups transformed the French foods sector. On the one hand, the larger companies possessed greater purchasing power, enabling supermarkets to compete with lower pricing. Contracts with the larger supermarkets also enabled food production companies to invest in expanding their own production capacity, while also stimulating the growth of a production channel dedicated to the supermarkets' private-label sales. On the other hand, as the retail sector entered into a steadily tightening consolidation, producers were confronted with a shrinking number of outlets for their products. The large-scale supermarket groups featured only a limited number of brands within each product category on their shelveslosing a spot on a supermarket's shelf spelled potential disaster to the food producers. As a result, the large-scale distribution groups came to dominate the food producers as well as the retail channel.

Thiriet recognized the opportunities offered by placing its products into the supermarket sector. In 1973 the family decided to specialize in the production of ice cream, and formed a new company, Glaces Thiriet. Yet Claude Thiriet remained wary of the retail industry, and instead of devoting the new company to the production of its ice cream, decided to enter the direct retail sector as well, developing its own home delivery operation. In this way, the company was able to maintain a degree of independence.

The home delivery market had long been an important retail channel in France, and especially in the country's rural and agricultural regions. These areas remained underserved by the larger distribution groups, which focused their expansion efforts on the country's metropolitan areas. A number of companies came to specialize in home delivery, typically operating truck-stores and making the rounds of customers' homes. The appearance of freezers as common home appliances in the late 1960s and early 1970s created a new market for frozen foods, and a number of companies established specialized frozen food home delivery services.

Thiriet launched its own catalog, and invested in its own fleet of refrigerated trucks, providing deliveries of customer orders. The company also developed its own sales staff in support of its home delivery operation, serving the Lorraine region. The success of both its wholesale and home delivery business led Thiriet to step up its production in the mid-1970s. In 1975, the company moved to the outskirts of Eloyes, building a new factory to support the growing demand for its ice cream. Through the rest of the decade, Thiriet focused on expanding the geographic reach of its ice cream brand, establishing concession partnerships throughout the country. By 1980, Thiriet had become a national ice cream brand.

Retail Network in the 1980s

Into the 1980s, the company began expanding its product line, adding a line of frozen pastries and desserts. The company continued to distinguish itself by the high quality of its products; by the end of the 1990s, the Thiriet brand held the number three spot in the ice cream category (trailing only food products giants Unilever and Nestlé) and the number one position in frozen desserts.

A major factor in the growth of the Thiriet brand was its decision to expand its retail operation in the mid-1980s. The company opened its first retail store in 1985, offering its ice creams and desserts, as well as a limited range of other food products. The success of the company's retail division convinced Thiriet to expand that business starting from 1990. As part of that expansion, the company began diversifying its production, building up a more complete range of frozen food items under the Thiriet name. In addition to basic products, such as bulk vegetables, meats, fruits, and the like, the company created its own research and development team, charged not only with maintaining quality levels, but also with developing new prepared foods recipes.

By the mid-1990s, competition in the frozen foods sector had intensified. Thiriet faced competition not only from the supermarket groups, which by then had come to dominate the national grocery market, but also from rivals such as Picard, which, like Thiriet operated in both the home delivery and retail stores segments, Gel 2000, a retail specialist, and Agrigel, the leading home delivery specialist. In order to boost its position, Thiriet decided to engage in a massive investment program in the mid-1990s. The company expanded its range of goods, boosting its catalog to more than 1,000 items. Yet Thiriet remained true to its rootsmore than one-third of its products fell under the frozen dessert category.

As part of its investment drive, Thiriet stepped up the pace of its new store openings. By the middle of the 2000s, the company numbered more than 150 stores. At the same time, the group's home delivery business had continued to deepen its penetration of the French market. Supporting the company's expansion was the establishment of a network of some 75 distribution centers. The company also built up a network of logistics platforms, including at its home base in Eloyes, but also serving the Sarthe, Aube, and Rhone regions.

Key Dates:

Claude Thiriet, 22 years old, joins the family bakery in Eloyes and begins producing ice cream.
Thiriet forms Glaces Thiriet S.A. and specializes in production of ice cream; the company begins sales to the retail sector and launches its own home delivery operation.
The company builds a national brand through a concessions network; production of frozen pastries and desserts is launched.
The first Thiriet frozen foods store is launched.
The company expands frozen foods production and packaging.
The company continues expansion, completing its range to feature more than 1,000 frozen food products.
The company builds a state-of-the-art logistics platform.
A EUR 38 million expansion program is launched.
The company opens a new logistics platform in Donzère in the Drôme region.
Home delivery service is launched in Luxembourg and part of Belgium.
The company opens a new logistics platform serving the southwest region.

International Interest in the 2000s

Thiriet continued building up its national infrastructure into the mid-2000s. As part of this effort, the company earmarked some EUR 38 million in new investments starting in 2001. This led to the construction of a new 12,000-squaremeter logistics platform in Donzère, serving the Drôme region. In 2002 and 2003, the company added new distribution centers in Dainville and Petit Forêt, followed by the opening of a logistics platform in Moutauban-La Bastide St. Pierre in 2005 to provide support to the company's southwest region operations. In that year, as well, the company boosted its distribution network to 75 centers, adding distribution centers in Mezieres and Albi.

While building up its own national presence, Thiriet had long been interested in the international markets as well. The company extended its reach to France's overseas possessions, establishing a store in Guadeloupe, as well as two stores on the island of Reunion. The company also teamed up with international partners to introduce its ice cream and pastry products to other markets. In Switzerland, for example, the company formed a partnership with Agemo, which extended the company's distribution and home delivery operations into the French- and German-speaking regions, and also opened a Thiriet store in Switzerland. The company also added sales in Japan, The Netherlands, Korea, Morocco, and Portugal. In 2004, the company extended its operations to Luxembourg and parts of Belgium, providing home delivery operations there.

By 2005, Thiriet held a solid place as France's third largest manufacturer of ice cream and leading producer of frozen desserts. The company also had established itself as the country's second largest frozen foods retailer, with 150 stores throughout France. Thiriet, which remained privately held and controlled by founder Claude Thiriet, also retained its interest in seeking out new partners to aid in building its brand on the international market. Thiriet looked forward to a tasty future in the new century.

Principal Competitors

Carrefour S.A.; Etablissements E. LeClerc S.A.; ITM Entreprises S.A.; Groupe Auchan; Rallye S.A.; Toupargel-Agrigel S.A.; Maximo.

Further Reading

Ambrosi, Pascal, "Thiriet engage 38 millions d'euros d'investissement sur trois ans," Les Echos, October 8, 2001.

Davis, Mary B., and Joan Schatzberg, "Regrouping in Freezer Center Segment As Fierce Competition Rivets France," Quick Frozen Foods International, January 2000, p. 80.

"Glaces Thiriet (651e) élargit sa gamme," L'Expansion, November 8, 2001.

Vercesi, P.M., "Le bel appétit de Claude Thiriet," BREF Online, March 2002.