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Gelpass group gives its activities a boost


Elodie Soury-Lavergne – Le Journal des Entreprises – November 2019

When he founded Gelpass in 1996, François Dequesne was only 25 years old. A youthful gamble that has paid off, as he is now at the head of a SME with a turnover of €80 million and 130 employees. And this player in the vegetable frozen food industry, based in Armentières (Nord), wants to quickly pass the €100M mark, then, double its turnover within 5 years. To achieve this, François Dequesne and his partner Vincent Sepieter are banking on external growth, which will enable them to expand their product range.

A necessary diversification.

Gelpass has nearly 200 customers, mainly in France. Nearly 40% of its products are sold to food industry manufacturers (for the production of salads, soups, ready meals, etc.) 30% are sold to food services (central kitchens, restaurants, etc.), and the rest to distributors. According to the manager, this distribution is not intended to change. “What we want is to offer a wider range of products to our customers,” he explains. A bias related to the state of the frozen food market, which “is hardening, with numerous concentrations”. To have managed to maintain in 2018 a growth of 7%, on a market in decline of 2%, has required “a lot of energy”, he concedes.
So, while waiting for a new craze for frozen food, François Dequesne is diversifying his activities in the direction of fresh and dried food. Two recent acquisitions, carried out this summer via its two holding companies, have enabled Gelpass Group to get its foot in the door. One of these operations concerns the Breton company Délivert: with it, the Northern France company acquires new skills in raw, as well as cooked, ready-to-use products. With a 5000m² plant, Délivert processes 3500 tons of vegetables, pulses, cereals, and condiments every year. This SME, which employs 50 people, had a turnover of €5.86M in 2018, with a loss of €99,000. “The factory was mainly producing basic products: we want to go to more elaborate products, which generate a better profitability” details the manager. The two holding companies have also taken over the Compagnie des Produits Sauvages (CPS), which brings its skills in mushroom sourcing and in dried products. This is an opportunity for the group, which is in the process of digitizing. “Digitizing the sale of frozen products is complicated. It is also complicated for fresh products, because of the shelf life of the products. We are going to create ranges of dried mushrooms, which will be sold directly to restaurants, via an e-commerce site”. he announces.

A fund raising to accelerate.

To lead this wave of acquisitions, François Dequesne has the support of Bpifrance, which entered up to 22% of the capital of Gelpass group, in 2018. “Their presence reassures bankers when we buy unprofitable companies. Bpifrance also provides us with an outside view and advice: you can’t be good at everything,” he comments. Other acquisitions will therefore follow quickly: “discussions are underway for next year. Taking over is easy, but you also have to know how to develop”, he concludes.

Gelpass website here.