Barilla buys British fresh pasta maker Pasta Evangelists

MILAN, Jan 14 (Reuters) - Barilla said on Thursday it had bought a majority stake in Britain's Pasta Evangelists, re-entering the fresh pasta market and boosting its digital offering at time when the pandemic is driving demand for home deliveries of food and drinks.

The companies did not disclose the financial details of the deal, but two sources close to the matter said Barilla would pay around 40 million pounds.

Pasta Evangelists, which was founded in 2016, delivers boxes of fresh pasta directly to clients across Britain.

Itsells on its website but also distributes pasta and sauces via Ocado (OCDO.L), Amazon (AMZN.O), Marks & Spencer and at a physical outlet in the Harrods Food Hall. Last year its sales rose more than 300%, surpassing 1 million portions of pasta, Barilla said in a statement.

The Italian food group, which is the world's biggest pasta maker, will acquire the majority of the British company through its venture firm BLU1877.

Under the deal, Pasta Evangelists will continue to operate as a stand-alone entity led by Chief Executive and founder Alessandro Savelli, and co-founders Chris Rennoldson and Finn Lagun, who will remain significant shareholders in the company.

Due to the coronavirus crisis, "the consumer demand for freshly made, premium food is growing, as well as the use of e-commerce and subscription-based consumer products," said Barilla Chief Marketing Officer Gianluca Di Tondo.

Britain and Pasta Evangelists are at the forefront of these trends, Di Tondo added.

Barilla said it would also create a digital hub in London that would work in an integrated way with the Parma headquarters.

Family-owned Barilla stopped producing fresh pasta in 1998 to focus on dried pasta.

Reporting by Francesca Landini; editing by Valentina Za and Steve Orlofsky

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