The meat alternative firm has made much of its US growth in the past few months, with ceo Kevin Brennan claiming high double-digit sales annual growth there as he commented on full-year sales. Now, US-based WhiteWave has made an initial approach to Quorn’s owner Exponent Private Equity.
However, Robert Lawson, co-founder of industry consultancy Food Strategy Associates and former md of Quorn, told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “The focus will be on the European growth potential.
“Quorn is a very small player in the US meat substitute market. US companies are unlikely to look at Quorn there and see a huge opportunity that is readily accessible – today the business is still small, number five in the market and faces tough US competition. It also has an additional cost versus competition of freight and tariffs, as all Quorn is made in the UK.”
On the other hand, Lawson highlighted WhiteWave’s ownership of plant-based products brand Alpro. “WhiteWave’s interest is driven by the European potential, where Alpro is very synergistic with Quorn,” he said.
Quorn launched into the German, Danish and Finnish markets last October and Brennan has said he believes Europe holds massive promise for meat-free products.
A Sky News report has suggested companies such as Nestlé and Hain Celestial might also be interested in bidding for Quorn should matters progress beyond preliminary discussions.
Julian Wild, partner at Rollits solicitors, whose clients have included a wide range of food companies, said: “I can’t honestly see there being a UK buyer for it. There would always be big international players with an interest, but the big question for me is: is it truly an international brand?”
FoodManufacture.co.uk understands that Hain Celestial could be a strong contender for the brand. Nestlé is thought to be a less likely investor, with one source claiming its board would be against the move.
Wild did not rule out private equity interest in a deal.
In January, Quorn reported a 7% rise in annual sales to £150M and revealed plans to target £200M in sales in the coming year.
Brennan has disclosed plans to boost the brand’s global value to more than $1bn in the next 10 years.
In April 2014, Quorn announced it had invested £30M at its Billingham production site in County Durham, creating 400 jobs.
Consumer packaged food and beverage firm WhiteWave Foods Company, which is based in Denver, Colorado, makes, distributes, markets and sells branded plant-based food and drink products.