“Our hearts in Brittany, our sights on the world”

1962, Plouvien

Our story begins in Plouvien, a small community situated in the county of Finistère, near the coastal area of Aber Wrac’h. Facing rapid changes in Breton farming, two families of butter merchants, the Léons from Plouvien and the Falc’huns from Bourg-Blanc, decided to join forces to grow their business. From making butter collection rounds at the outset, they adapted to collecting cream, then milk and expanded their processing capacity. In the early years, 6000 litres of cream would arrive every day in churns and be made into butter.

This change of direction and change of skillset meant that modernisation was needed and investment in pasteurisation and skimming machines as well as adapting the trucks to transport liquids. Thus was born the Société Industrielle Laitière du Léon (Léon Industrial Dairy Company) or SILL in 1962.

1973, The Drying Tower

At the beginning of the 70s, Breton farming was booming and producing vast quantities of milk. To make good use of its stock, SILL built a drying tower and started producing milk powder. Investment on this scale, the largest since the beginning of the company ten years before, was a major development: the company was moving up a gear and into industrial-scale production.

1973 also saw the arrival of the company’s Chairman: Gilles Falc’hun “I was full of ideas and had all the ambition of youth. But the time was ripe for new ideas: the farming world was undergoing a complete change”. With 40 employees SILL was producing three product lines: butter, cream and milk powder, firmly established at the centre of its milk collection area.

How and why we are experts in the UHT process

By 1980 the process of UHT conservation was becoming more widespread. Most industrial dairies of the time were building UHT plants as did SILL … market competition was fierce. But Gilles Falc’hun had an idea. For the past dozen years, dairies in Northern Europe had already been using their expertise in UHT techniques to process fruit juice.

So SILL branched into fruit juices and then, three years later, into soups. This foresight enabled the company to overcome the economic crisis that arose as a result of European milk quotas imposed by Brussels in the mid-80s. In 1982, Henri Léon caught the enthusiasm of his older cousin and joined the company.

Looking ahead and diversifying

Gilles Falc’hun may be ready to admit that milk runs in his veins, but Henri Léon insists that he must have fallen in the pot as a baby. With a shared passion for the company and for their work, the two men gathered a close-knit team around them that was fully involved in growing the company, energising SILL with real dynamism. The next step was towards international markets, particularly in Asia, with new premises opening in Singapore in 1998.

The time had also come for SILL to look beyond milk production and branch out into new business. A new, strategic branding policy was therefore adopted. After frozen ready meals in the mid-90s, SILL diversified into ultra-fresh products, acquiring high value-added companies such as Le Gall, Malo and Le Petit Basque dairies – and branched into petit fours with Primel Traiteur.

The emergence of the SILL group

As a result of this expansion, the SILL group of companies was born, based in seven towns: Plouvien, Plougasnou, Plabennec, Le Pertre, Quimper, Saint-Malo and Saint-Médard-d’Eyrans. The group made the decision to spread any potential risk by diversifying across four divisions: dairy, soups and juices, frozen foods and milk powder. It relies on three extensive distribution networks: the food service industry, large and smaller French supermarket chains, plus the export market. It’s a strategy that works extremely well!

Ongoing projects and plans

Moving forward, the company is heading towards the international market via Landivisiau where it has built a brand, new factory for the production of milk powder. Together with a second set of premises in Dubai, a whole new chapter in the story of SILL Entreprises is beginning. The company is constantly on the lookout for new, high value-added opportunities to market the same quality milk that is still collected from farms around the original Plouvien site created by those two butter merchants, whose grandchildren are following in the footsteps of their forefathers and joining the company. ”But the future also involves all the Group’s employees: “We are proud to have helped create new jobs, growing from a staff of 40 in 1973 to more than 1500 today” says Gilles Falc’hun. “We have succeeded in maintaining a good atmosphere and in expanding without disrupting existing company structure, all the while keeping our unmistakeable human touch.”

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