Based in Montpellier, Groupe Chauvin is the largest French supplier of opthalmic products, with its own operations also in Belgium, Switzerland, Germany and the UK. It took over recently Smith & Nephew's opthalmic division in the UK, Ankerpharm in Germany and Opsia, a French supplier of intra-ocular implants. These acquisitions caused the group's operating profit to drop to 44 million French francs (e6.7m-$6.1m) in 1998, but its profitability recovered somewhat last year on sales of 711 million FF (e108m-$99m).

Chauvin had been looking for a financial partner to help fund development and international sales of many new products. B&L, which dropped last month its bid for Wesley Jessen, is paying $228 million in cash for Chauvin. The acquisition will allow B&L to have a stronger presence outside its own major markets, the USA and Germany, and it will contribute to profits as of next year.

B&L's sales were down slightly to $452.9 million in the second quarter ended June 24, as compared to the same period a year ago, but they were up 2 percent for the whole first half to $859.7 million. Extraordinary charges of $8.4 million, including $3.7 million in expenses related to the Wesley Jessen bid, depressed the quarterly net profit to $34.6 million from $173.4 million a year ago. Excluding extraordinary items, B&L had net earnings of $64 million in the first half, up from $43.9 million in the year-ago period.