In fact, Johma was a loss making business. “In the past, many employees were very proud of the brand. However as the product deteriorated, they lost that,” says Bas Glas, a partner at Gilde Equity Management (GEM) Benelux.
But Gilde Equity Management had a very clear plan. At the end of 2006, it had bought Hamal, which was more a factory rather than a company, according to Glas. It turned it into its own organization with its own procurement, marketing and sales departments and invested in capacity. When it acquired Johma, it did a reorganization, improved the recipes and did a brand re-launch. In 2012, Gilde Equity Management bought another business, called Westland. That’s when the firm consolidated the three businesses, naming a chief executive officer for the whole group in early 2012.
But firstly, Gilde Equity Management invested in new product lines and introduced artisanal production methods, which meant products were made from raw materials in the factory instead of buying semi-finished product for instance for chicken and fish salads. “We brought in the best quality, new packaging, and new flavors. The most important part of this investment was ensuring the quality of the product. Quality sells. If people have tasted a product and they like it, they will buy it again.”Johma’s market share, which had declined as it had lost popularity, grew as a result.
However, this change didn’t happen overnight. “It doesn’t help to only have boardroom discussion, you need to go into the organization and communicate with the teams,” according to Glas. Yet it was important to accept that changing an organization takes time, he adds. “You need to give the business time to evolve and adapt.”
In 2011, the improved recipes started to get some traction. Under Gilde Equity Management’s ownership, top line revenue rose from EUR 54 million to approximately EUR 160 million and EBITDA grew to approximately EUR 22 million from approximately EUR 9 million. Gilde Equity Management sold the business in 2012 to AAC Capital Partners, generating a return of more than 3x.
Since the changes Gilde Equity Management brought in, employees have regained their pride for the brand again, according to Glas. “The company culture is very important; and if you manage to get a ‘winning spirit’ in an organization, that creates success. When I look back at what happened in this business – and it’s definitely credit to the organization and the management team – it has improved so much,” he adds.
Our judges agree. “It’s really hard to start with a factory and create consumer demand,” said Conor Kehoe. “But they did it. It was such a supreme effort to keep the whole ship afloat while building a brand position.” Carol Kennedy added: “Salad Signature was the outstanding case here. There was tremendous demonstrable value creation across all three businesses – and then the integration too. It’s a stunning story, I loved it.” Indeed, at least two of our judges suggested this was their favorite entry in all of the European categories.