In a portfolio of more than 200 products, we identified a product range stacked chips that we believed to have true European potential

Europe_Snacks_Christophe Fenart_BD_Apax_Partners avec fondsv2At 11 a.m. one Tuesday morning, barely off the plane from Madrid, Christophe Fenart – the charismatic CEO of Europe Snacks – talks to us about his experience of international growth.

For this manufacturer of savoury snacks expert, the international adventure began six years ago. “We generated 100% of our turnover from major French retailers, with a strong leading position on the private label brands savoury snacks market. Amid relatively sluggish growth on this market with respect to our double-digit growth targets, international growth was essential“, he explains. Europe Snacks’ expansion into other countries was launched. The question remained of identifying – in a portfolio of more than 200 products – the product range that would win over retailers beyond France’s borders. Stacked chips was the product given the seal of approval by the team, convinced of its European potential.

Christophe Fenart explains: “In contrast to export activity, which consists of sending know-how to other countries, international growth calls for products to be adapted to local consumer habits“. Europe Snacks thus adjusted its stacked chip recipes to suit European tastes. “The Germans like their paprika hot and spicy, whilst the French prefer it sweet. The British palate is different again“, the CEO smiles.

The next question to arise was the tricky issue of the go-to-market strategy. For Christophe Fenart, the goal was clear: getting products to market with the targeted profitability level, without aiming for internal control over distribution. The group’s ability to identify the most appropriate partnership in each country is what has allowed it to generate 10% of its current turnover abroad. “We began by focusing on countries that had French-owned retailers, to whom we presented our products. We then contacted other retailers. We applied this approach in countries where mass-market retailing is highly structured, such as Spain. In Italy, for example, the approach is very different as their retailing system is made up of lots of small stores, with very complex logistics. Logistics was the real entry barrier in that country. We therefore opted to team up with a logistician, who saw the advantage of becoming the partner of a private label brand“.

The operational complexities arising from this new international scenario were pre-empted by the CEO: “We needed to get the internal departments and the back office to incorporate this new dimension by explaining in concrete terms just what would change in people’s day-to-day activities and the life of the company. We configured our tools in English and trained our teams on EU mechanisms and the various food regulations (on flavouring, salt content, etc.)”. “The complexity of international growth must be managed in order to be manageable. It is not something we should fight against, unless necessary to pursue growth“, Christophe Fenart continues.

At the heart of this transformation of the company’s culture, the manager plays a key role: “You have to get an entire company behind you, striking a balance between bringing in skilled individuals from outside and developing those who understand the profound changes the company is undergoing. As a manager you have to be both self-assured and persuasive. If you are not, then no-one will be. The job requires the ability to explain and demonstrate, to give meaning to the activities conducted internally. When people are not prepared for this type of change, they tend to freeze. This is true at all levels of the company. We need to succeed in establishing new processes and working methods“.

Working alongside the CEO since 2013, Apax Partners’ teams support his international growth efforts. “What is so pleasing about Apax Partners is that they provide unwavering support for the company’s strategy. They are right behind the CEO’s strategy and allow growth to be accelerated. Apax Partners’ teams, for example, tackle the task of external growth head-on by identifying targets in Europe. They free up time for me, which I can devote to other company levers“, Christophe Fenart sums up.


Apax Talks


Apax Talks is a digital magazine aimed at company managers. It presents growth levers for SMEs, with a focus on TMT, consumer, healthcare and services sectors.