Weetabix has boosted its presence in the dairy drinks category with the acquisition of RTD protein shakes player UFit.

The deal, for an undisclosed sum, represents Weetabix’s first major acquisition since its own £1.4bn sale to US group Post Holdings in 2017.

The Grocer reported in November that UFit owner Lacka Foods had appointed Stamford Partners to seek investment to accelerate growth and expand into new categories.

It is understood Weetabix has taken full ownership of Lacka, which will continue to operate as a standalone company with the existing management team remaining in place.

A joint statement said the deal “unites two of the UK’s market-leading food and drink businesses and unlocks growth opportunities for Lacka Foods both in the UK and in international markets”.

Austin Bailey, founder and MD of Lacka Foods, said: “Securing investment from a like-minded British business and family favourite such as Weetabix is a transformational step in the Lacka Foods story, and will help accelerate our pace of growth in a rapidly expanding category both here in the UK and internationally.”

Weetabix itself has pushed strongly into the ready-to-drink market since launching its own On The Go drinks range in 2014.

However, sales suffered during Covid as breakfast on-the-go occasions slumped as consumers worked from home, meaning sales fell back from over £14m pre-Covid to around £10m annually.

Conversely, UFit continued to grow strongly despite the drop in food and drinks impulse purchases, growing by 33% to £13.1m [NielsenIQ 52 w/e 11 September 2021].

UFit has benefited from its high-protein, fat-free and no-added sugar profile as health issues move to a more central concern for shoppers since the advent of Covid, with higher-sugar competitors such as Frijj and Mars losing share.

The brand has grown its distribution significantly in recent years, with space in chillers in the big four mults, Lidl and Booths, as well as in forecourts and across the c-store market with Nisa, Budgens, Londis, McColl’s and Spar.

The flavoured milk category more generally has remained in strong growth due to increased at-home consumption, with overall sales up 15.6% year on year to £422.3m, driven by branded growth of over 20%.

Damian Thornton of Stamford Partners, who advised Lacka Foods, said: “We’re delighted to have helped yet another great, fast-growing British brand find the right home. UFit has performed amazingly through the pandemic and its healthy positioning is highly complementary to Weetabix’s on-the-go drinks offering.

“I’m sure Weetabix will be able to unlock significant additional growth opportunities and take the UFit brand to the next level.”