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Cognetas talks with AXA over Diana sale

By Jess Halliday , 29-May-2007

Negotiations are underway between private-equity groups over the sale of French natural ingredients firm Diana-Ingredients, indicating a positive view of the company's potential in the marketplace.

The Vannes-based firm was acquired by Cognetas (then Electra Partners Europe) in 2004 in a leveraged buy-out worth €240m. It is usual practice for private-equity firms to review their strategic progress every few years, and the possible sale underscores their continued interest in the food sector. Diana CEO Olivier Suquet confirmed to that AXA Private Equity has entered into a period of exclusive negotiation, but he was not able to give details on when a sale may be completed. "This offer by AXA has to be submitted to anti-trust authorities and Cognetas shareholders," he said. Under French law union representatives must also be kept abreast of negotiations. Suquet would not comment on the value of the acquisition. However French newspaper La Tribune reported last week a value in excess of €700m, and The Financial Times predicted Friday that the sale will be confirmed within the week. Suquet said that the sale Diana Ingredients will not change day-to-day running of the company at all. AXA Private Equity representatives were not available for comment. AXA's approach to buy-outs involves investment in profitable high-potential companies, with a view to bolstering growth and earnings in new markets. It identifies companies that are presently high-performing, "or with potential to be so in the near future". Diana Ingredients has three divisions: Diana Naturals (natural ingredients), Cap Diana (culinary ingredients) and SPF (pet food ingredients). Amongst the product offerings for the food industry from Diana Naturals are natural colourings, dehydrated and natural fruit and veg extracts, nutraceuticals and wine extracts. The company reported sales of €233m in 2005, the latest year for which financial results are available, and EBIT at 15 per cent of turnover. Sales growth over 2004 was 20 per cent.

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