The Carullas, the discreet Catalan clan to which Gallina Blanca gives million-dollar golden eggs

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It was born out of necessity caused by the shortage, but the name already foreshadowed its success: Gallina de Oro. It was the beginning of the Civil War in Spain and Lluís Carulla Canals heard his mother say that the grocery store was not going to supply any more Maggi bouillon cubes. In 1937, with the country in flames and despite the collectivisation processes underway in anarchist Barcelona, ​​the patriarch of the Carulla family founded this company on Paseo de Gràcia in Barcelona using a machine he had invented himself and a recipe for making bouillon cubes that a manufacturer from Strasbourg (France) had given him. Over the years, it was renamed Gallina Blanca. It was no longer necessary to say that it was made of gold: this was made clear by the success of its products, such as AveCrem cubes. Today this company is GB Foods, a food giant that accounts for almost two-thirds of the business of Agrolimen, the holding company of the Carulla family, the fourth richest person in Catalonia with a net worth of 350 million, according to the Forbes list. With the strict discretion that characterises them, the Carullas have been in the process of transition to the third generation for some time, accompanied this year by changes in the executive leadership, with the appointment of a new CEO. Agrolimen is 100% controlled by the family, through half a dozen holding companies of each of the family branches of the second generation, and through two companies based in the Netherlands. As such, Agrolimen was born in 1964, a year after a bold move: Gallina Blanca's decision to have a 50% North American partner in order to diversify and so that AveCrem could continue to maintain its position in the market when new competitors emerged. Agrolimen has since entered and exited many businesses, always accompanied by a partner: real estate, chewing gum (Bang-Bang, Boomer, Trex…), Trinaranjus, the meat industry, hygiene products (Arbora and Ausonia), the fast food and restaurant segment (Pans & Co., Bocatta, Café Di Fiore…) or animal feed, among others. Currently, Agrolimen has two sources of business: GB Foods, which contributes two thirds of its turnover, and Affinity Petcare, a pet food company. GB Foods is 76.4% owned by Agrolimen and 23.6% by Converal Inversiones, also owned by the Carullas. GB Foods' brands include Gallina Blanca, but also Jumbo, Erasco, Gino, Liebig, Star, D&L, Grand'Italia and Blå Band, among others. According to the latest consolidated accounts listed in the Commercial Registry, corresponding to the 2022 financial year, Agrolimen had a turnover of 2,284 million euros, and obtained a net profit of 191 million euros. GB Foods contributed around 1,440 million to the business, 11% more than the previous year, while Affinity PetCare contributed 844 million, growing more in sales, 19.5%. In 2023, GB Foods' sales grew by only 1%, but profits increased by 14% to €143 million.Artur Carulla. Susanna Sáez (EFE)The ocean liner sails without pause and without making noise. The discretion is such that, for the culmination of this family transition, a small mention was simply made in the BORME at the beginning of this year: Artur Carulla Font (75 years old), one of the six children of the founder and the strong man of the second generation, left the board of Agrolimen to pass the baton to his son Ernest. His eldest son, Artur Carulla i Mas (47 years old), had already taken over from him four years ago as president of the holding company, consolidating the position taken by the third generation, made up of 17 cousins, who have been replacing their parents on the board as they have left. There have also been changes in the executive part: last April Joan Cornudella retired, the man most trusted by the Carullas since he took over as CEO of Agrolimen in 2009. Coming from Panrico, and before that Pepsico, Cornudella arrived 15 years ago to professionalise the management of the family holding company. He then led a period of great expansion of the conglomerate, and has finally given way to the signing of Juan Martín Alonso, an executive from Cordoba with extensive experience in New York as chief executive of Kind Snacks, the healthy products division of the firm Mars. Martín Alonso has also replaced him as president of fifteen companies that make up the puzzle of Carulla family companies. With all these changes, the second generation is moving away and capital is definitively taking a backseat, far removed from management. The Carullas' limited public presence, and their aversion to wanting to appear in the media – they declined to make statements for this report – has not prevented this clan from having weight in the future of Catalan society. This has been the case in the cultural sphere – Father Carulla was one of the founders of Òmnium Cultural, and one of his daughters, Mariona, cleaned up and re-founded the Palau de la Música Catalana after the Félix Millet scandal – and in politics – the family has been very close to the pro-sovereignty theses and in the years of the procés Artur Carulla Font, who was vice-president of the Círculo de Economía de Barcelona, ​​toned down the harshness of the entity's statements against the Government. Also, through the Carulla Foundation, the family collaborated in the creation of the newspaper Ara, in which it had a stake of less than 30% until it sold it in 2019. Now the family has an even more discreet profile, focused on reaping the profits: this year the Carullas share 52 million of the dividends from their holding company. The strategy of Agrolimen, which has 5,000 employees and 24 factories, has been to diversify its business and grow through acquisitions over the years: the most significant were the purchase of the Italian prepared food group Star in 2006 and that of Continental in 2018, the latter operation for around 970 million. This strategy has been financed with sales – such as the sale of half of Arbora & Ausonia (for 800 million in 2012) or Pans & Co in 2016 – and more recently with debt, which despite having important maturities this year and the following years, does not pose a problem for the group's finances: some 426 million in bank credit in Agrolimen, some 500 million in GB Foods Europe and another 40 million in GB Foods Africa Holding. Africa is precisely a very important market for GB Foods, present in 30 countries on the continent and contributing almost a third of the turnover. Although Agrolimen's accounts for last year have not yet been registered, the company announced, when it announced the signing of Martín Alonso, that the turnover will reach 2.5 billion euros. With discretion but without stopping, the hen will continue to lay its eggs. Follow all the information on Economy and Business on Facebook and Twitter. Xor in our weekly newsletter

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