FOOD & RECIPES

Ebro Foods purchases premium rice brand from Hain Celestial

MADRID, SPAIN — Ebro Foods S.A. has acquired the rice brand Tilda from the Hain Celestial Group, Inc. for $342 million in cash. The transaction includes two plants in Rainham, U.K., and a workforce of 326.

Founded in 1972, Tilda produces a range of grains and rice, primarily basmati rice. The brand’s portfolio includes steamed, dry and specialty rice as well as blends featuring grains such as quinoa, millet and rice combined with coconut, cranberries and pumpkin seed or pulses such as chickpeas and edamame. Tilda’s net sales in the fiscal year ended June 30 totaled £152.6 million ($200 million).

Ebro Foods has more than 80 brands in rice, pasta and sauces, including the Minute rice brand.

“Through this acquisition, Ebro not only enhances its portfolio of global premium brands in the rice sector, but also acquires a strong foothold in the British market, where it has to date had only a token presence,” said Luis Peña Pazos, secretary of the board of directors for Ebro Foods. “In addition, Ebro believes that Tilda’s international nature will pave the way for extensive development with other group products.”

Hain Celestial, which acquired the Tilda business in 2014, plans to use a portion of the sale proceeds to pay down debt and is evaluating distribution alternatives.

“We are pleased to complete the strategic sale of Tilda, which is consistent with our transformational plan to simplify our portfolio, strengthen our core capabilities and expand margins and cash flow,” said Mark L. Schiller, president and chief executive officer of Hain Celestial. “Tilda has been a strong business for us, primarily in the United Kingdom, and under new strategic ownership, we expect the brand to continue to thrive. We believe this transaction represents a significant premium to a majority of other European food and global rice and pasta industry transactions over the last several years. In addition, this divestiture will enable us to reduce our exposure to marketplace disruption associated with the uncertainty of Brexit and additional future potential foreign currency fluctuations.”

Mr. Schiller provided additional comments during an Aug. 29 earnings call with securities analysts.

“First, when we were at Investor Day, what we told you is any brands that we felt were not going to be accretive to the business that we would sell,” he said. “Tilda did not fit in that bucket, but what we did get on Tilda was an unsolicited offer at a very premium valuation, which forced us to take a look at it and say, it’s now time to sell this business. I would tell you there are several factors in our decision to sell it. One obviously was the valuation, which was 13.5x and honestly, by the time all the cash settles with working capital and the like, will net close to $350 million for this transaction, which is pretty close to what we paid for it. But when we paid for it, it was at $1.65 currency, and it’s now at $1.21. So we’ve created some good value over time and felt that this was a very premium valuation to other deals that have gone into the market.”

Another factor, he said, was that Hain Celestial had encountered headwinds pressuring the business.

“There’s been significant increase in government regulations around the importing of rice and some of the specs that you need for the rice, which makes it very difficult to source from a country like India, which has far fewer controls around its supply,” he said. “And so what’s happened is over the last several years, the input costs have almost doubled on that brand. And while you’ve seen robust top line, you’ve actually seen significant erosion in gross margin and EBITDA margin on that business. So, while it was a premium margin business, it was becoming dilutive to our algorithm because of these headwinds, and we didn’t see any relief on those headwinds any time in the near future.”

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