There were some big acquisitions in 2023 as well as mergers and some folds. Kim Berry reflects on a year not without its challenges.
When US private equity firm, Paine Schwartz Partners (PSP) bought a 15 per cent stake in fresh produce company Costa Group (#25) in October 2022, the market took notice. After all, PSP had floated Costa back in 2015. So, when Costa confirmed in July that PSP had put in a takeover bid in May, it was more a case of “how much” rather than “who saw that coming”.
But it wasn’t a seamless process. Costa’s 1H CY23 results were a mixed bag – its international business grew 33 per cent and EBITDA-S was up 43.5 per cent, but a poor harvest for table grapes, and citrus having a late season and delivering poor quality, let the team down.
PSP revised its bid, shaving $100 million off its offer and valuing Costa at $1.49 billion. Costa concurred and told the market it accepted the $3.20 per share offer.
If there was a skerrick of doubt about Treasury Wine Estates’ (#10) focus on premiumisation, then its $1.6 billion cheque for the Californian premium wine company Daou Vineyards should put that to rest.
The addition of Daou will see premium and luxury wines account for more than 50 per cent of global revenue. And for Treasury America, its luxury portfolio will grow from 38 per cent of net sales revenue to 53 per cent.
Fun fact – the US is the fastest growing luxury wine market in the world, and Daou was the fastest growing luxury wine brand in the US market in the last year. It also has a mountain named after it.
Fries with that
In September, one of the largest manufacturers of french fries in the US, Lamb Weston, acquired Australian frozen potato-based product manufacturer and supplier Crackerjack Foods.
It’s the third acquisition by Lamb Weston’s Australia business in five years. Its local brands are Harvest Choice, Marvel, and Farmers Best.
Crackerjack Foods has two processing lines, one in Keilor and a new, highly automated purpose-built facility for in-line frying of battered products in Campbellfield, Victoria, which opened in 2020.
Betta for you
In August, Bega (#5) acquired Betta Milk and Meander Valley Dairy from TasFoods for $11 million. The deal included the brands, Betta Milk’s plant and equipment and a perpetual, royalty-free licence to use the Pyengana Dairy brand in Australia.
For Bega it was about shoring up its brand offering to Tasmanians. It’s had a dairy presence in the Lenah Valley in Tasmania since the early 1900s so the deal would build on that.
For TasFoods it means the company is debt free and well capitalised to grow its poultry business, Nichols Poultry, and premium cheese brand, Pyengana Cheese. It had been working on simplifying its business since 2022 and had sold Shima Wasabi in June.
WOAH for WOA
Over in Western Australia, regenerative agriculture and lupin protein company, Wide Open Agriculture (WOA), took some big swings this year. Keep in mind it only officially opened its pilot plant-based protein facility in July 2022, to produce its lupin plant protein – Buntine Protein – that it developed with Curtin University.
This year included a $5 million grant to build a production facility for its Buntine Protein enhanced oat milk; signing on with an APAC distributor; and confirming two US distribution partners. Then things really did ramp up.
In October, WOA and Saputo Dairy (#9) signed a non-binding MOU to investigate whether WOA could use Saputo’s equipment to produce commercial quantities of Buntine Protein.
Soon after, WOA announced it was acquiring leading European lupin producer, ProlupinGmbH, which meant WOA became the world’s largest lupin protein producer. I think they call that a mic drop.
Not quite on that scale, but sticking with the alternative protein sector, All G Foods and Fënn Foods announced they were merging businesses to become The Aussie Plant Co. Fënn Foods was founded in 2015 by Alejandro Cancino and Paola Moro, and the first plant-based meat company to launch a carbon neutral product through its consumer brand vEEF.
All G Foods arrived in the scene in 2021, after a successful $15.5 million seed funding raise. All G also has a biotech arm, using synthetic biology to replicate cow’s milk. That business will stay with All G while its consumer plant-based meat label, Love Buds, will become part of The Aussie Plant Co.
The new company creates a larger player in the industry that will be within striking distance of the market leader, v2 food. It also pools the strengths of the two companies – Fënn had superior manufacturing processing and a strong retail presence, while All G had better R&D and a well-established role in foodservice.
The Aussie Plant Co. will be based on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, where Fënn Foods is based.
A lot of voluntary administration notices came across the Food & Drink Business newsdesk in 2023, one, some would say, was that of a national treasure. Sara Lee was sold by McCain (#32) to New Zealand-based private equity firm, South Island Office, in 2021. The company went into voluntary administration in October, with FTI Consulting appointed administrator. FTI said there has been a lot of interest, with gross annual sales at around $120 million. Non-binding indicative offers had to be in by 1 December, so there’s a little teaser to carry us over into 2024.
One of the stories with the most views on our website in 2023, was the news that ASX-listed Halo Food Co had gone into voluntary administration barely 18 months after buying online health and wellness company, The Healthy Mummy (THM), for $17 million. When Halo acquired THM, its founder Rhian Allen had built one of the largest online communities for mothers of mostly young children, who wanted to lose weight. Its subscriber model included access to nutritionists and personal trainers, food, and consumer goods. Its website had a 4x customer acquisition cost to lifetime ratio.
Halo CEO Danny Rotman said $4-5 million of THM’s products would be bought in-house to manufacture, and its higher margin proprietary brand sales would transform Halo’s sales mix and increase gross profit.
Instead, Halo’s FY23 results for the 12 months to 31 March 2023, reported a 72 per cent decrease in normalised EBITDA to $0.7 million.
Halo Food Co’s other brands were functional beverage brand Tonik, milk powder manufacturer Key Dairy, and confectionery brand Gran’s.
A strategic review failed to meet expectations and at the beginning of August, Halo sold THM to Hairmop, a company that runs online healthcare platforms for men (Mosh) and women (Moshy), for $588,540.
In late August, the company told the ASX the strategic review had failed to meet expectations and financial support had been withdrawn.
Looking at brands in the health and wellness (and weight loss) market, Jenny Craig’s US parent company collapsed in May. In Australia, there were initially 15 interested parties in the local business, which narrowed to four submitting a non-binding indicative offer.
A sale wasn’t reached, beyond Woolworths’ healthcare tech company Eucalyptus acquiring the online assets – a web address and customer database – for its heath and weight loss platforms Juniper (for women) and Pilot (for men).
From weight loss to confectionery, in September, confectionery company Yowie Group acquired Australia’s oldest chocolate house, Ernest Hillier, for $375,000. Yowie bought its parent company, Chocolate and Confectionery Company, which included Newman’s chocolate brand, all IP, and the plant and equipment in Melbourne.
Some smaller brands struggled with rising interest rates, costs of ingredients, logistics, and energy, and the impact of cost-of-living pressures on consumer spending.
The health food brand Bounce Foods went into voluntary administration in July, after a launch into the US in 2016 was unsuccessful. It left the company with a heavy debt burden that meant it couldn’t access the level of working capital it needed to fund its Australian operations.
Australia’s largest family-owned health and wellness supplements company, PharmaCare, bought the company for its health food division, which includes the Go Natural brand.
And Nourish Foods shocked the industry in September when it went into voluntary administration.
Founded in 2005, Nourish was the first food company to achieve B Corp certification and one of the first companies to offering organic, allergen-free, nutritious snacks with its Whole Kids label.
Earlier in the year it launched its third crowdfund equity raise but put it on hold when they were approached by a large retailer. Discussions had been ongoing, due diligence had been completed, and its co-founder Monica Meldrum said they were “very confident” the investment would go ahead and that all were heading in the same direction. But that was not the case. By the time the retailer withdrew, Nourish didn’t have the working capital to continue.
Tempo Group of Companies, more known for supplying consumer and electrical goods, acquired Nourish for its small food and beverage portfolio. It also distributes Greek company Tripsas’ olives to ANZ and North America and owns Paramount Salmon and Brunswick Sardines, acquired from Noumi (then Freedom Foods Group) (#45) in 2021 for around $3 million.
A rewarding and sometimes bruising year, here’s to 2024 being more of the former for all parts of the industry.
This article first appeared in our annual Top 100 edition of the Food & Drink Business print magazine.