Germany: French Source Alma buys fourth mineral spring

Sources Alma SA, a French manufacturer and bottler of mineral and spring water and with over four billion fillings one of the leading players of the industry, is making its fourth entry into the German mineral water market, following its previous ventures with Rhönsprudel including Bad Liebenwerda und Spreequell (2022), Rilchinger (2020), and the former Troy Aqua location in Jessen acquired by Edeka (2016).

The company wants to buy Förstina, a medium sized mineral water spring that fills around 300 million bottles a year and employs 380 people. “A contract has not yet been signed, but there is already agreement [with the owners, the Ehrhardt family] on the basic cornerstones of the planned takeover," explains Managing Director Andreas Richardt.

The completion of the purchase is also subject to the approval of the Federal Cartel Office. As became known today, the acquisition of all shares in Förstina has already been submitted to the German Federal Cartel Office for approval on May 26th. Förstina has a turnover of over 50 million euros - much more than the threshold of 1.75 million euros, which does not require a permit.

 Förstina, located just a stone's throw away from Rhönsprudel, recorded sales of 219 million liters last year, but profits had suffered significantly. Six months ago, Pierre Sauer, previously employed as a corporate consultant, was appointed as the managing director.

The previous competitors RhönSprudel and Förstina would be managed from a single source under the umbrella of Alma.

Alma was founded as “Source Roxane” in 1954 by Lucien Lobjoit, a wine and spirits merchant, in the French town of La Ferrière-Bochard, Normandy. Five years later Pierre Papillaud took over the business and made it in the coming decades one of the leading companies in its sector. In 1982, Roxane was the first company in France to bottle still drinks under aseptic conditions.

At the beginning of the 1990s, the French bottled water market was still essentially dominated by single-source mineral waters produced by three owners – Nestlé, Danone and Neptune.

Neptune owner, Pierre Castel and Pierre Papillaud, decided to create a value business model based on sourcing the water from 22 different springs to compete in the domestic market.

 In 1991, the Cristaline brand was launched which quickly became the best-selling volume brand in France, overtaking Evian, Vittel and Volvic in volume sales.

In 2000, the company was renamed Sources Alma and started launching new mineral water brands nationally and internationally.

In 2008, Pierre Castel and his Castel Group, sold its 60% stake in the Alma group. Castel, aged 81 at that time, said that he would focus his efforts on wine, a beer venture in Africa and carbonated beverages.

Alma, with a sales turnover of around EUR 900 million in 2008, was too large for Papillaud alone to buy. Therefore Papillaud, became the majority shareholder with 51%, while the remaining 49% were sold for nearly EUR 750 million (USD 1.2 billion) to a Japanese-American partnership, Otsuka Beverage Co, the Japanese producer of Pocari Sweat sports drink and also responsible for marketing the Neptune brand in Japan.

Since the death of Pierre Papillaud in 2017 aged 81, his son Ronan has taken over the business from his father. However, CEO of the company is Luc Baeyens, 59, a Belgian by birth, who joined Alma in 1994 and later followed in the footsteps of patriarch Pierre Papillaud.

Today Alma stands for about 50 production sites in the UK, Spain, Italy, Luxembourg, USA and Italy.

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