Ardian sells Diana for €1.3bn

The business attracted bids from The Blackstone Group, BC Partners, Eurazeo, CVC and Pamplona.

Paris-based Ardian, formerly known as AXA Private Equity, has sold French food business Diana Group to global trade buyer Symrise in a transaction that values the business at €1.3 billion, according to a statement.

It is understood Ardian sold the business in an auction process run by JP Morgan and Lazard. The company attracted bids from other private equity groups including The Blackstone Group and BC Partners in the first round and CVC Capital Partners, Eurazeo and Pamplona Capital Management in the second round, according to a source close to the matter. The divestment delivered a “healthy return”, the source said.

Ardian declined to comment beyond the statement.

France-based Diana, which operates in the food, pet food and cosmetics industries, operates in 23 countries across Europe, North America, Latin America and Asia.

Ardian bought Diana in 2007 for €710 million including debt, using equity from its LBO Fund III, a €501 million 2005-vintage and its LBO Fund IV, a €1.6 billion 2008-vintage.

Ardian subsequently assisted with a number of add-on acquisitions. In 2013, Diana bought Confoco International UK and Confoco Ecuador. It also acquired US-based business Pacific Pure Aid, and France-based food business Chacé Copack. In 2011, Diana bought Map Technology and the DPS society.

Under Ardian’s ownership, Diana’s turnover has increased to €451 million, up from €254 million, with staff numbers doubling from 1000 in 2006 to 2000 in 2013. Diana now generates more than 50 percent of its sales outside Europe.

It is understood that Ardian’s LBO Fund III is fully divested following this deal, while LBO Fund IV still has eight companies in the portfolio.

The sale also marks an exit for European private equity firm Motion Equity Partners, from whom Ardian bought its majority stake in 2007. Motion, which had owned Diana since 2004, decided to keep a minority stake in the business. Motion did not respond to a request for comment at press time.

The exit comes a few months after Motion was given a new lifeline by HarbourVest Partners in a major fund restructuring deal. HarbourVest provided Motion – which was not in the position to raise a successor fund – with capital for two to three deals and approximately four years to make money out of its portfolio. LPs in Motion’s Fund II, a €1.25 billion 2005-vintage, had the option of either selling their stakes or staying in the fund for the next four years, PEI reported in January.