Clays sold to Italian printers Elcograf

Clays sold to Italian printers Elcograf

Suffolk-based book printers Clays has been bought by Italian printers Elcograf S.p.A for £23.8m.

No redundancies will follow the acquisition, and the senior management team will remain as it is, Clays managing director Paul Hulley told The Bookseller.

The sale of Clays, a 200-year-old business and the largest single-site manufacturer of printed monochrome books for the UK publishing industry, follows the decision made by its parent St Ives a year ago to sell its printing operation to focus on its strategic marketing offering. 

The purchase will "cement the status" of Elcograf as "a leading European print provider", the Italian printer said. Clays produces 150 million books a year, all of which are printed and bound at the company’s production site in Bungay, Suffolk.

Clay's new parent describes itself as "the absolute market leader in Italy and the third largest player in Europe", with 900 people working across six Italian sites and facilities covering gravure, web offset and offset printing. It was formed out of Pozzoni S.p.A’s 2008 takeover of Mondadori Printing S.p.A. Pozzoni founded in 1913 and Mondadori was founded in 1907. 

Elcograf also acquired the operations of Roto 2000 in Casarile and its subsidiary, Europrinting, to enhance its "production capacity and geographical presence" in 2014; and Italian printing workshop Amilcare Pizzi S.p.A. in Cinisello Balsamo in 2015.

Hulley told The Bookseller the buy was "fantastic news", after a number of enquiries from interested parties prior to now hadn't resulted in a sale. Elcograf of all of these is "the best fit"; "they don't do anything but print" and, while believing "passionately" in the business, it will be able to invest in Clays, he said.

"The good news is that of all the people that have been interested in the business, this is definitely the best fit and the best new owner for the business," said Hulley.

"We have become part of a print group again. We started off being family-owned and then we became part of St Ives. And being part of a larger print group was right for us, St Ives were great owners for us for many years. But they are no longer a print group; Pozzoni group are. They fully believe in print, they are absolutely committed to print, they don't do anything but print and they're passionate about print. And they believe solidly in the book market. They will invest in Clays and invest in Clay's long-term future. That is great news for us."

He added: "That doesn't change our market. Our market is a very tough one. It's very competitive, we've got some real challenges in that market. But it makes us better placed to deliver what our customers need."

According to PrintWeek, in St Ives’ last financial year, Clays' operating profits fell by 55% to £2.6m on sales up 12% at £76.5m. It followed a "rollercoaster period" for Clays when it won a "huge" Penguin Random House contract but then lost its HarperCollins business.

Following the acquisition, another string to Clay's bow - what Hulley termed a "significant extension" to its capabilities - will be a full colour book service, since its parent has undertaken to invest in its colour sites in Italy. Clays will now have more short-run capacity (both digital and jet) too.

“This is extremely good news. It's fantastic news for Clays and we welcome it enormously," said Hulley. "All the feedback we have had from customers so far has been very positive."