Joint venture combines flour milling businesses
ConAgra Foods, Cargill and CHS announced last week a definitive agreement to combine their North American flour milling businesses to form Ardent Mills, a new flour milling company that will serve customers in the baking and food industries.
Ardent Mills will bring together two of the nation’s leading and most respected flour milling companies: ConAgra Mills and Horizon Milling, a Cargill-CHS joint venture formed in 2002. The new company will take advantage of the combined assets, capabilities and experience of ConAgra Foods, Cargill and CHS to bring innovative flour and grain products, services and solutions to the marketplace.
Ardent Mills’ vision will be to help customers increase their growth and profitability in an everchanging marketplace. Its products will be backed by an extensive network of wheat sourcing capabilities and flour milling and bakery mix facilities across North America. The company will offer a unique set of services, including product development resources, technical and application support, supply chain management and commodity price risk management. Ardent Mills also will tap the market knowledge, transportation logistics, consumer insights, food ingredients and culinary expertise currently available through ConAgra Foods, Cargill and CHS.
Suppliers, including the many farmers and cooperatives that currently provide wheat to the milling operations of ConAgra Mills and Horizon Milling, are expected to benefit from the additional sourcing opportunities provided by Ardent Mills’ asset base, as well as from more opportunities to make value-adding connections to consumers.
Ardent Mills will operate as an independent joint venture of its three parent companies, Omaha, NEbased ConAgra Foods, Minneapolis, MN-based Cargill and St. Paul, MN-based CHS. Dan Dye, who currently serves as president of Horizon Milling, will lead Ardent Mills as chief executive officer once the new company is formed. Dye will be joined by Bill Stoufer, current president of ConAgra Mills, as Ardent Mills’ chief operating officer and chief integration officer. The company’s operations and services will be supported by 44 flour mills, three bakery mix facilities and a specialty bakery, all located in the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico. The location of its headquarters will be determined at a later date.
ConAgra Foods and Cargill will each own a 44 percent stake in Ardent Mills, with CHS owning a 12 percent interest. All three companies will have representatives on Ardent Mills’ board of directors.
“We’re excited about this unprecedented step to further our heritage in milling while creating longterm value for ConAgra Foods’ shareholders,” said ConAgra Foods Chief Executive Officer Gary Rodkin. “Ardent Mills will set the new industry standard by addressing the most important issues facing customers, such as commodity price volatility, increasingly sophisticated food safety requirements, the need for more cost-effective supply chains, and growing market demand for more innovation in products and processes.”
“The future of flour milling is tied to serving the innovation and supply chain management challenges of food producers,” said Scott Portnoy, corporate vice president, Cargill.
“This is what makes us excited about Ardent Mills. It will have the knowledge and experience to help customers develop foods that appeal to consumers’ changing taste and texture preferences while also meeting their nutritional needs. It also will have the assets and capabilities to help customers improve the efficiency of their supply chains and strengthen their commodity risk management.”
“As part of Ardent Mills, CHS farmer-owners will have more opportunity to further connect the wheat they produce to the consumer marketplace,” said Mark Palmquist, executive vice president and chief operating officer, Ag Business, CHS. Palmquist added that CHS, the nation’s leading producer-owned cooperative, will be among the new company’s wheat suppliers.
ConAgra Foods, Cargill and CHS will contribute their respective milling operations to Ardent Mills on a cash-free, debt-free basis in exchange for the agreed ownership interests. Sales for ConAgra Mills, currently a part of ConAgra Foods’ Commercial Foods segment, were approximately $1.8 billion in its fiscal year ended May 27, 2012. Sales for Horizon Milling were approximately $2.5 billion in its fiscal year ended May 31, 2012. The owners intend for Ardent Mills to be self-financed through cash flow from operations and its own bank debt and credit facility. The structure and amount of Ardent Mills’ debt financing will be determined during the pre-close period. The owners intend to receive cash distributions from Ardent Mills at closing. Initial estimates of the total proceeds to be distributed range from $800 million to $1 billion.
The formation of Ardent Mills is expected to be completed in late calendar year 2013, following regulatory clearances, financing and the satisfaction of customary closing conditions.
ConAgra Foods, Cargill and CHS look forward to completing the formation of Ardent Mills, creating an exciting, dynamic new company that will utilize its farm-to-consumer knowledge and capabilities to serve bakery and food company customers even better than today. — WLJ