September 20, 2018 / 10:30 AM / 3 months ago

France's InVivo to buy organic food chain in retail push

PARIS, Sept 20 (Reuters) - Agricultural group InVivo is in talks to buy a chain of organic food stores in southern France, part of a plan to expand its retail business which is currently based on gardening stores.

InVivo aims to complete the acquisition of privately held Bio&Co by the end of the year, InVivo Chief Executive Thierry Blandinieres told reporters on Thursday. Bio&Co currently operates six stores with annual sales of around 22 million euros.

The investment will bolster the handful of grocery outlets selling local products that InVivo has been trialling in the past two years under the Frais d’Ici banner.

The group, which declined to disclose the financial terms of the acquisition, hopes to have around 150 food stores by 2025, mainly next to its garden centres.

“We can see the potential in specialist retail formats,” Blandinieres said, stressing consumer interest in health issues and locally sourced goods.

“It’s really reassuring for farmers to see that we are investing in retail to sell their products.”

InVivo is a grouping of around 200 farmer-owned cooperatives with total sales of 5.5 billion euros ($6.44 billion) in 2016/17.

Earlier this year it announced the sale of its animal nutrition division Neovia to U.S. agribusiness group Archer Daniel Midland for 1.5 billion euros, in order to focus on its farming, retail and wine distribution activities.

InVivo has expanded its retail gardening network in France to around 1,400 outlets with the takeover this year of Jardiland. It aims to use the food stores within or next to the garden centres to help regain market share from supermarkets and home improvement chains.

The cooperative is aiming for food to contribute around 30 percent of its retail sales by 2025, which could represent several hundred million euros in turnover, Blandinieres said. ($1 = 0.8544 euros) (Reporting by Gus Trompiz; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)

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