Sales: FFr13.9 billion (US$2.29 billion)
Although SODIMA is perhaps best known for its Yoplait brand of yogurt, produced and sold in over 37 countries, SODIMA is also one of France’s leading producers of other dairy products, such as fromage frais (fresh cheese), creams, and desserts, and, with the Candia brand, is the country’s number-one marketer of milk.
Sodima is a cooperative union made up of regional cooperatives. Its Paris headquarters is run by a board of directors made up of representatives from member companies, who try to reach a consensus on policy. The companies act independently in managerial concerns, but they produce and market their products according to SODIMA’s national policy.
Dairy cooperatives have existed in France since the 1800s, but it wasn’t until the 1960s that local organizations began to organize their production and sales operations on a regional level. At that time, several cooperatives became dissatisfied with the limitations of the regional structure and wanted to organize on a national level. In 1964, six cooperative unions joined forces to create SODIMA (Société de Diffusion de Marques). The cooperatives pooled their resources and knowledge to develop a wide range of fresh dairy products and open the national market in France.
In 1965, SODIMA launched the first national and comprehensive line of dairy products under the Yoplait brand. Through Yoplait’s success, SODIMA was able to grow rapidly. Just four years later, Yoplait was introduced outside of France; SODIMA drew up a franchise agreement to give foreign companies the right to use the Yoplait brand name while the union continued to provide marketing, technical, and sales assistance.
In 1971, several member cooperatives also began to market Candia, the first national brand of fluid milk in France. Candia was an attempt to stimulate the milk market by changing milk’s image as merely a common household staple. Advertisements depicted milk as more of a luxury beverage, and Candia milk was packaged in brightly colored wrappers instead of the usual white. Like Yoplait, Candia was a success; a year later, the cooperatives introduced Candia skimmed fresh milk.
In 1974, in order to reflect the company’s changing interests, SODIMA changed the words behind its acronym to “Société de Développements et d’Innovations des Marchés Agricoles et Alimentaires” (Association for Development and Innovation in the Agricultural and Food Markets).
In 1975, Candia launched Viva, milk with a guaranteed vitamin content, and in 1976, it introduced Candy, a variety of flavored milks. By 1977, Yoplait was being marketed in 22 foreign countries, and the American General Mills Company had acquired the Yoplait franchise to produce and market its yogurt products in the United States. Yoplait soon became a major contender in the U.S. yogurt market. A year later, SODIMA’s annual worldwide yogurt sales topped one billion cups.
In 1982, SODIMA created the Yoplait International Institute, an organization to define the guidelines for innovation and research of Yoplait products. Half of the institute’s members were from SODIMA member cooperatives and half were from Yoplait’s international franchisers. Its chairman, André Gaillard, was also SODIMA’s honorary president. SODIMA also organized the André Gaillard International Research Center, to be overseen by the Yoplait International Institute. Located in a suburb of Paris, the center was to coordinate SODIMA’s research policies, focusing on biotechnology and the development of new products.
In 1985, SODIMA International S.A. was founded as a subsidiary responsible for Yoplait business outside of France; it is especially concerned with marketing, technical, and sales activities.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s Candia continued strengthening its position as a leader in the French milk market: pasteurized fresh milk was successfully repositioned and a liquid, ready-to-drink breakfast was introduced. Candia continued to grow in popularity with French consumers; by now, it handled about a third of all packaged milk produced in France.
In 1988, Yoplait began to market Ofilus, a variety of fermented milks with bifidus and acidophilus bacteria, two strains that help balance the digestive and intestinal flora. Ofilus comes in two varieties, one called Ofilus Nature, aimed at health-conscious, regular yogurt eaters, and one called Ofilus Double Douceur, aimed at those who prefer creamy foods. Yoplait had also become a leader in the fresh-cream market, introducing Silhouette, a cream with only a 12% fat content.
In 1988 SODIMA created two more subsidiaries: SODIMA CLB, in Lyons, responsible for Candia marketing and sales; and SODIMA Frais, in Paris, responsible for Yoplait marketing and sales. The sales staff of cooperatives producing Candia and Yoplait were transferred to these two main branches so that each brand would have a single sales force and delivery system.
In 1988, ULPAC, one of the founding cooperatives of SODIMA, and Centre Lait, another union member, merged into the Alliance Agro-Alimentaires 3A, to collect milk from the central and southwest regions of France and produce both Yoplait and Candia products. The union of these two cooperatives signaled the cooperatives’ desire to strengthen the agricultural sector in their regions in preparation for the upcoming single European market in 1992.
In July, 1989 SODIMA announced the creation of SODIAAL (Société de Diffusion Internationale Agro-Alimentaire). Headquartered in Paris, this group economically unites six SODIMA-member cooperatives. Each cooperative is responsible for managing one aspect of SODIAAL, such as milk intake or investments. SODIAAL was formed in anticipation of 1992 and the expected increase in business opportunities. It is now the largest dairy group in Europe.
Also in 1989, Yoplait opened a plant in Tianjin, China, with the larger ambition of developing the modern Chinese dairy industry. International Trust and Investment Corporation, working through Tianjin Agricultural Industry and Commerce Corporation, was SODIMA’s main partner in the venture.
Since its organization, SODIMA has continued to diversify its product line according to changing consumer desires and has expanded its territories all over the world. Yoplait and Candia have become leaders in the French market, and SODIMA consumes more than three billion liters of milk a year in manufacturing its products.
With its span of international operations and the strength of its cooperatives within France, SODIMA is well prepared for the economically unified Europe. As consumers become more concerned about health, many milk products, especially yogurt, are increasing in popularity. SODIMA, while not abandoning its desserts and rich creams, has also designed a line of products with less fat and cholesterol. SODIMA’s range of products and Yoplait’s popularity suggest that the union’s organizational flexibility will continue to further its success in France and elsewhere.
SODIMA International S.A.; SODIMA Frais; SODIMA CLB; Yoplait S.A.; Cedilac.