Thierry Graindorge, the third Graindorge to run the eponymous cheesemaker in Livarot, Normandy, is no stranger to the concept of acquiring smaller producers. Since 1970, when he succeeded his father at the helm of Graindorge, he has acquired Fromagerie Domaine de Saint Loup, the Fromagerie du Plessis, and Fromagerie du Pays de Bray. Now, he’s on the other side of the negotiations.
Lactalis, based in Laval, Mayenne, France, is the largest dairy products group in the world, and Graindorge—maker of Livarot, Camembert de Normandie, Pont l’Evêque, and OG Neufchatel—will soon be a part of it. “Lactalis already produces the cheeses in which Graindorge specializes, so purchasing the company strengthens our position in this part of the market,” a spokesperson said in an article in just-food.com last week, speaking to the strategic logic of this move for Lactalis. Despite rumors circulating for several weeks about the future of Graindorge as Thierry’s retirement approaches, the announcement on June 6 that Lactalis would buy the company comes as somewhat of a surprise.
Graindorge, an operation that has been rooted in family ties since its inception in 1910, will end with Thierry, who intimated in Culture’s spring 2016 issue that his daughter Mathilde might eventually take his place as the head of the company. In his recent announcement, however, he stated that none of his children was interested in taking over, and as such, with much deliberation, he has decided that selling to Lactalis is the best solution.
“I have chosen Lactalis in order to ensure the autonomy of the group, maintain its identity, and safeguard all of the current workforce,” Thierry says. “There’s a clause in the sale agreement which stipulates that there will be no redundancies.” So Graindorge’s 250 employees can, at least, rest easy knowing that their jobs are safe under the new leadership, as can the 116 milk producers under contract with Graindorge—it appears that it was paramount to Thierry that, despite this significant transition, the everyday operations of the company would stay intact.
With this sale, Lactalis will become the number one producer of Camembert de Normandie, displacing Fromagerie Gillot. “The deal reflects how important we view the development of PDO cheeses,” says the spokesperson for Lactalis. Here’s hoping the shift is as smooth as Brie.
Photographs by David Bacher