A NORTH Yorkshire ice cream maker, which employs hundreds of North-East workers, has been bought by a private equity firm in a deal that will strengthen its international presence.

R&R Ice Cream, based in Leeming Bar, near Bedale, North Yorkshire, has been taken on by Paris-based PAI Partners, from funds managed by Oaktree Capital Management, for an undisclosed sum.

The deal for the company, which is Europe's largest own-label ice cream maker, comes just weeks after R&R announced a £49m deal to buy Cadbury, Del Monte and Britvic ice-cream and refreshment licence holder Fredricks Dairies.

PAI, which previously invested in yoghurt firm Yoplait and United Biscuits, says it will support R&R's expansion and product promotion, that includes Skinny Cow ice cream, Fab lollies and Kelly's Cornish ice cream.

R&R, founded in 1985, employs about 450 workers at its North Yorkshire headquarters, also holds the rights for ice-creams for Nestle, YooMoo frozen yoghurt and Disney, and previously signed a deal with Kraft Foods to make Milka, Toblerone, Daim and Oreo products in 10 European countries.

James Lambert, R&R chief executive and chairman, said it hopes to create a number of new jobs, adding the deal would continue its success.

He said: “We are very excited to be partnering with PAI and working together on our next phase of development as we continue with our growth strategy across our brands.

“We have benefited immensely from working with Oaktree, and I thank them for their support.”

R&R was formed in 1985 as Richmond Ice Cream, with five employees, and merged with Leeds-based ice lolly maker Treats Group in 1998, buying Nestle Ice Cream's UK business in 2001, allowing it to make and distribute Fab, Mr Men, Smarties and Rolo ice creams.

It was merged with German ice cream maker, Roncadin, in 2006, after the Oaktree managed funds' purchase of the company, and has gone on to buy a number of ice cream businesses, including Rolland and Pilpa, in France, Germany's Durigon, and Italy's largest own-label ice cream maker, Eskigel.

Colm O’Sullivan, PAI partner, said: “R&R is a market-leading company with a strong portfolio of innovative products and excellent potential to expand in the UK and internationally.

“The food and consumer brands sector is a core area of investment focus and expertise for PAI and we are delighted to be investing in R&R.

“We look forward to working closely with the company’s management and supporting the company’s continued growth.”

It was also yesterday revealed that R&R was considering the future of its factory, in Crossgates, Leeds, due to the building needing significant investment.

It is believed a 45-day consulation programme is now underway with workers, with R&R hopeful of avoiding redundancies.