Cargill’s takeover hunger dilutes core business

26-08-2011 | |

Cargill is still America’s, and perhaps the world’s, biggest privately-owned corporation. But it is not the company it used to be.

The agribusiness giant’s $2.2bn (€1.5bn) acquisition of feed group Provimi is the pinnacle of an acquisition spree unprecedented in its 146-year history, and which has taken it into branded foods.
The result is not just a group with more extensive food operations by value, but one which extends across the food chain, right down to consumer labels such as Sweekar sunflower oil in India and, in Brazil, Pomarolo tomato sauce.
Acquisition spree
"The acquisition of the Provimi Group is part of a stunning acquisition spree that aims to diversify Cargill away from its core agribusiness sector," Sam Hamadeh, chief executive of private companies analysis group, said. based in New York, estimates Cargill’s "stunning" takeover spree over the last year at $6.5bn (€4.5bn), a far bigger bill than the company has historically undertaken – and all funded by cash.
Paying in shares would mean the group spreading its shareholder base beyond the closely held group based around descendants of founder William Wallace Cargill.
The spree is being bankrolled by proceeds from the disposal of Cargill’s controlling stake in fertilizer group Mosaic, besides funds retained from earnings which hit a record $4.2bn (€2.9bn) in the year to May.
Down the food chain
Operationally, it may begin to make consumers aware that, in Hamadeh’s words, "everything you eat probably has something Cargill in it".
Many of the acquisitions are broadening Cargill beyond its "traditional food processing business", besides the grain and marketing businesses which have built the group into a company worth, on PrivCo estimates, some $200bn (€138.4bn).
"Most surprisingly [takeovers include] major branded food products purchased directly by consumers," such as Rath cooking oil in India, KVB chocolate in Germany and Elefante tomato paste in South America.
"This is getting Cargill into tackling areas such as marketing, advertising budgets in ways it has not had to in the past," Hamadeh said.
‘Balanced, diversified, resilient’
A spokesperson for Cargill said that the company’s takeovers were undertaken to promote a theme of "balanced, diversified, resilient".
"We aim to build a portfolio that is balanced, diversified and in achieving that making us more resilient through the cycle," the spokesperson said.
A move into branded goods was "part of being balanced and diversified".
And takeovers such as the AWB grain handling operations in Australia showed that the company had done deals "in both ends of the spectrum".

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