French dairy buys Naugatuck-based YoCrunch

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CNLogo1Danone SA, the French parent company of Dannon and Stonyfield yogurts, announced last week it has purchased Naugatuck-based YoCrunch, producer of yogurts with flavored toppings.

Danone did not disclose the financial terms of the deal, but said YoCrunch has net annual sales of $110 million and has seen double-digit growth in recent years.

Danone, based in Paris, is an international company with more than 190 production plants and about 102,000 employees on five continents. In 2012, the company said, it generated annual sales of more than 20 billion euros (about $26.7 billion).

The purchase adds YoCrunch to Danone’s U.S. portfolio, which includes White Plains, N.Y.-based Dannon and Londonderry, N.H.-based Stonyfield.

Michael Neuwirth, spokesman for Dannon in White Plains, said Danone is “very excited to be working with YoCrunch. We have tremendous respect for the success they have built.”

Neuwirth said the purchase by Danone will not affect Yo-Crunch’s approximately 160 workers, about 110 of whom work in Connecticut at YoCrunch’s facility at 162 Spring St. in Naugatuck.

“There are no changes planned,” he said. “YoCrunch will continue to operate independently, with its own identity.”

Neuwirth said YoCrunch will have a new “organizational leader,” with Sergio Fuster being named general manager.

According to his LinkedIn profile, Fuster has served as Dannon’s senior vice president of marketing and chief marketing officer since June 2011, and has held other executive positions within Danone since August 2006.

Neuwirth declined to comment on other management changes, including the fate of Chuck Marcy, YoCrunch’s president and chief executive officer.

“I am not in a position to talk about specific individuals,” he said.

Danone is adding to its U.S. dairy business to make up for western European consumers’ switching to cheaper private labels in the debt-burdened region. U.S. yogurt sales, meanwhile, are forecast to increase to $8.4 billion by 2018 from $6.5 billion last year, according to data from Mintel.

Danone accounts for about 30 percent of the market, with brands such as Dannon, Danimals and Activia, figures from researcher Euromonitor International show.

In a news release about its purchase of YoCrunch, Danone said the deal will also enable it “to benefit from YoCrunch’s unique expertise in compartmentalized packaging,” which was developed at its Naugatuck facility.

YoCrunch was founded in 1984 as YoFarm Yogurt Co. in Mount Vernon, N.Y. Founder Josef Dansky, a trained dessert and dairy products marketer, started by producing a single-serve gelled dessert and then moved into the yogurt market. Experimenting with different flavors and cup sizes, he moved to Naugatuck when he decided to buy the space on Spring Street, where a dairy business was for sale.

In 1991, YoFarm introduced a granola topping for its yogurt, creating a niche market — a “mix-in.”

The company first changed hands in 1997, when equity firm Stolberg Partners bought it. A year later, the top-selling YoCrunch Cookies ‘n Cream with Oreo cookies hit the market and quickly became its best-selling product.

In addition to Oreos, YoCrunch’s toppings include Fruity Pebbles, M&M chocolate candies and Nestle Crunch pieces. In January it introduced Yopa!, a Greek yogurt that also comes with a variety of toppings.

Industry growth in the U.S. has been driven by Greek yogurt, which now represents 45 percent of yogurt sales in the country and may become the biggest category in six months, according to a report from Bernstein Research.

Information from Bloomberg News is included in this report.