Carlyle Exits Irish Chocolate Brand Lily O’Brien’s in €40M deal

Lily O’Brien’s, the Irish manufacturer of premium chocolate and desserts, has agreed to be acquired by Colian Holding SA for €40 million on a debt-free, cash free basis from its existing shareholders, the Carlyle Cardinal Ireland Fund (CCI) and members of the Lily O’Brien’s management team. The acquisition is expected to complete in January 2018.

Based in Kildare and founded in 1992 by Mary Ann O’Brien in the kitchen of her home, Lily O’Brien’s today employs 120 people at its Newbridge plant and generated revenues in excess of €30 million during 2016.

Employing approx. 2,000 people, Colian Holdings SA is listed on the Warsaw Stock Exchange (COL:WSE) and is a Polish producer and distributor of food products in the confectionary, culinary products and beverage sectors.  Colian has a number of leading and trusted brands in the Polish market, and exports to over 60 countries around the world.  Colian also owns the well-known UK chocolate brand, Elizabeth Shaw.

CCI, the private equity fund focusing on investments across the island of Ireland founded by The Carlyle Group (NASDAQ: CG) and Cardinal Capital Group, acquired a majority shareholding in Lily O’Brien’s in January 2014, investing alongside Eoin Donnelly (CEO), Mary Ann O’Brien (founder) and other members of the management team.  Lily O’Brien’s has undergone significant growth during the four years of CCI ownership.  Since 2013, total revenues and global export revenues have increased by almost 50%, underpinned by increased investment in production facilities and new product development.

Lily O’Brien’s represents a compelling strategic fit for Colian with its high level of brand recognition and market position, complementing Colian’s existing products.  Lily O’Brien’s currently exports more than 80% of its products and the brand is sold in more than 15 countries.  In addition to its international retail presence, the company also supplies airlines and food services companies, with the brand available on 20 airlines around the world.  Lily O’Brien’s has a successful innovation track record that can be applied across the enlarged group, as well as an accomplished international management team.

Lily O’Brien’s will continue to be run by its existing Irish management team led by CEO, Eoin Donnelly, with Mary Ann O’Brien remaining as a director and consultant to the company. Colian’s vision is to continue the growth trajectory of Lily O’Brien’s as a premium global chocolate and dessert brand through further investment in production, sales and marketing, and innovation. Lily O’Brien’s will continue to develop its Newbridge operations to support this growth.

Eoin Donnelly, CEO, Lily O’Brien’s said; “CCI has been a fantastic partner for Lily O’Brien’s and the management team over the last four years, as the company increased its international sales, invested in new production capacity and enlarged the employee base.  We selected Colian as the new owner for the business given our shared vision of growing our brand globally. Colian exports to over 60 countries worldwide, providing us with access to potential new markets, and their commitment to new product development and innovation is very exciting for employees and the company”.

Jonathan Cosgrave, Managing Director, The Carlyle Group said; Lily O’Brien’s was our first investment in the Irish market and working with a world class management team led by Eoin and Mary Ann has been a privilege for us.  The business has grown in every respect during the four years of our investment and the acquisition price recognises the value of both the Lily O’Brien’s brand and the capabilities of the business.  It has also created a sustainable impact for the Irish economy”.

Nick Corcoran, Founder, Cardinal Capital Group said; “The Lily O’Brien’s investment highlights the value of private equity for Irish companies and their management teams.  Over the last four years, we have become an important source of funding and support for Irish companies, investing in eight companies, including AA Ireland, Carroll’s and Sam McCauley, and employing more than 4,000 people across our portfolio.  We look forward to supporting more Irish companies with investment in 2018.  We thank Lily’s management team and employees for all their efforts and wish them and Colian continued success for the future”.


About Lily O’Brien’s

Lily O’Brien’s is an Irish-based manufacturer of premium chocolates and desserts.  It was founded by Mary Ann O’Brien, a well-known Irish businesswoman, in 1992.  Although well established in Ireland, Lily O’Brien’s is an export-led business with over 80% of its turnover derived from international sales in more than 15 countries.  Lily O’Brien’s primary focus is premium branded chocolate and it offers a diverse range of chocolate products including gifting, everyday, self-treat and seasonal products.  Lily O’Brien’s expanded into the desserts sector in 2011 and now supplies its branded products into blue chip international airlines and food service companies.  120 people are employed at Lily O’Brien’s headquarters in Newbridge where the company’s manufacturing and product development operations are located.


Source: Carlyle group press release

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