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Will France soon have its grain giant, from field to fork? InVivo, the leading group of French agricultural cooperatives, has entered into exclusive negotiations to acquire the Soufflet family business, a major player in flour milling, malt and grain trading.
Soufflet, the family-owned flour milling company that in 120 years had become the leading private grain collector in Europe, had no successor. Its managers Michel Soufflet, 90, and his son Jean-Michel, 63, had therefore been looking for a buyer for two years.
After rejecting a Canadian candidate, they entered into exclusive negotiations with InVivo, the first cooperative in France, which could buy Soufflet by the end of the year. Without restructuring, insist the two companies, which rather emphasize their complementarities.
Fields, silos, processing, trading
InVivo does have silos in the ports of Nantes and Bordeaux, Soufflet in those of Rouen and La Rochelle. InVivo had developed the distribution of local products and wine, in addition to services to farmers, but had somewhat abandoned trading other than oilseeds. With Soufflet, it would definitely set foot there again and expand into baking and malt processing, of which Soufflet is one of the three great world champions.
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« Marriage makes sense, believes the raw materials specialist Philippe Chalmin. France did not have a large operator of international size to go to the world grain markets. With the takeover by InVivo of Soufflet, we see the creation of an important pole both in the transformation of agricultural production, milling and malting, while building on the achievements of the French cooperative world. »
Bellows sold at the right time
The new entity would weigh 10 billion euros and would become the second largest agricultural operator in Europe. InVivo’s financial offer was not disclosed, but the sale comes at the best time for Soufflet, after a very good year 2020 for agricultural trading, which has enhanced the family business.
The operation is not acquired, however. Negotiations have only just begun and the competition authorities will have to make a decision. Even if the respective brands of the two companies remain, which will pose the problem of competition between Soufflet and a whole bunch of cooperatives with farmers, in certain areas of France, there is a risk that in the end there will be only one sole buyer of grain.