Lily O'Brien's Case Study

Lily O'Brien's

Consumer & Retail
Carlyle Cardinal Ireland Fund

About Lily O'Brien's and the Transaction
Lily O’Brien’s is an Irish-based manufacturer of premium branded chocolates and potted desserts. It was founded in 1992 by Mary Ann O’Brien, a well-known Irish businesswoman, in her kitchen. Although well established in Ireland, Lily O’Brien’s is an export-led business with more than 80% of its revenue coming from international sales across 15 countries, including the UK, USA and Australia. Its primary product focus is branded chocolate, offering diverse ranges of gifting, every day, self-treat and seasonal products. The company expanded into the potted desserts sector in 2011, selling across a blue-chip customer base, including international airlines and food service companies. 

Carlyle (through CCI) acquired a majority stake in Lily O’Brien’s in January 2014. When CCI sold the business to Colian Holdings SA, a Polish food, beverage and confectionary company listed on the Warsaw Stock Exchange, Lily O’Brien’s employed 120 people at its headquarters in Newbridge, Ireland. 

Key Value Creation Metrics

  • Doubled production capacity to remove constraints that were causing the company to decline customer orders
  • Increased UK market investment by enlarging sales team from one to five people and investing in marketing activities to increase brand awareness

  • Diversified products and channels beyond gifting and seasonal chocolates

  • Strengthened and focused management team through equity incentive program and via new Head of Sales, Production Director and Non-Executive Director

  • Utilized the Carlyle global network to help accelerate the company’s international expansion

  • Created a global leader in the sector with a diversified geographic and product mix

Investing into a High-Potential Brand Benefitting from a Growing Market Position
With a strong commitment to Lily O’Brien’s growth potential and a clear vision for scaling the business, CCI invested in the company, its brand and its management team. Two immediate priorities were investing in production facilities to double capacity and the development of a new online platform. These efforts delivered a tripling of e-commerce sales during CCI’s investment period. Furthermore, CCI recognized the importance of innovation as a key driver for the company’s success and culture. CCI helped to embed innovation across Lily O’Brien’s and to diversify the business in terms of product formats and chocolate flavors.

A core part of Carlyle’s investment thesis was building the company’s UK market capability in terms of scale and growth. Initially operating with only one sales person, Lily O’Brien’s had gained a foothold among the majority of large UK retailers. The Company significantly increased the UK sales team to grow distribution and increased marketing and promotional investment to build brand awareness in the UK.  

CCI also supplemented the company’s Board of Directors by appointing the former Head of International Sales for Kraft and recruiting highly experienced heads of production and sales. These efforts resulted in a doubling of UK retail revenue during our four-year investment period, despite the uncertain political climate and challenging broader retail environment following the UK’s vote to leave the EU. 

Under Carlyle’s ownership, Lily O’Brien’s generated exceptional revenue growth and margin enhancement through a focused international growth strategy.