Danone Completes WhiteWave Acquisition - With a Surprise CEO

April 12, 2017
Lorna Davis from the French headquarters is named head of the new North American business.

Danone on April 12 announced the completion of its acquisition of WhiteWave Foods. In somewhat of a surprise, the combined North American operation has been put under the leadership of Lorna Davis, who has worked for Danone off and on since 1997 and, until today, held the title of "chief manifesto catalyst."

The $12.5 billion deal, which was announced last July, will be the French dairy giant's biggest acquisition and will make Danone's North American business the largest segment of the company, accounting for about 25 percent of sales (WhiteWave's 2015's sales were nearly $4 billion and we've estimated Dannon USA's at $2.1 billion). It will be a true merger of Dannon with WhiteWave, which was spun off from Dean Foods in 2012, with the resulting "strategic business unit for North America" to be called “DanoneWave.” Danone plans to maintain dual U.S. headquarters in Dannon's longtime White Plains, N.Y., digs and WhiteWave's home in Broomfield, Colo.

Born in South Africa, Davis began her career with Unilever in South Africa, Australia and the UK. She joined Danone in 1997 as managing director of Griffins Foods in New Zealand before becoming regional vice president of biscuits for the UK & Ireland and Scandinavia & Nordics. In 2003, she was appointed vice president for Danone’s global topline acceleration "Growth Too" project. Then she was named president for Danone Biscuits in China, and went with that business when it was sold to Kraft Foods in 2007. Eventually winding up at Mondelez, she was senior vice president of global biscuits and president of North America Biscuits (Nabisco). She rejoined Danone in mid-2015 with that unusual title and a seat on the executive committee.

Under the terms of the merger agreement, WhiteWave shareholders will receive $56.25 per share in cash. To satisfy anti-trust concerns, Danone has agreed to sell organic yogurt-maker Stonyfield Farm, although a sale has not been announced.

WhiteWave's European subsidiary, Alpro, will join Danone Dairy "as a key pillar of its new plant-based category, managed by Gustavo Valle, with the aim to expand and grow the plant-based category around the world," the Danone statement said.

“Danone and WhiteWave are a perfect match to build a global leader leveraging consumer trends and expectations for healthier and more sustainable eating and drinking choices," said Emmanuel Faber, CEO of Danone.

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