By Ruth David and Agnieszka de Sousa
JBS SA, the owner of poultry brand Pilgrim’s Pride Corp., is emerging as the frontrunner to buy Dutch plant-based food producer Vivera, people with knowledge of the matter said.
Update: JBS has entered into an agreement to purchase Vivera, Europe's third-largest plant-based food produced, for an enterprise value of €341 million ($410 million U.S.).
The Brazilian company is in advanced talks on a potential acquisition of Vivera, which is backed by mid-market private equity firm Gilde Buy Out Partners, according to the people. A deal could value Vivera at about 300 million euros ($360 million) to 400 million euros, the people said, asking not to be identified because the information is private.
The purchase would help JBS, the world’s biggest meat supplier, tap into booming consumer demand for animal-product substitutes. Expanding in this area can also allow traditional food companies to address their sustainability footprint amid increasing pressure from environmentally conscious investors.
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Meatpackers like JBS have been trying to move past what’s been a difficult period for the industry during the coronavirus pandemic. Companies struggled last spring to contain Covid-19 outbreaks among workers, forcing many plants to reduce output, and JBS had to send thousands of U.S. employees home last year.
Legacy meat companies
Vivera has also attracted interest from other large consumer companies, the people said. No final agreements have been reached, and talks could fall apart or another buyer could emerge, according to the people.
A representative for JBS couldn’t immediately provide comment, while spokespeople for Vivera and Gilde declined to comment.
JBS said last month it was actively seeking acquisition opportunities after it beat earnings estimates with record cash flow in 2020. The company offers a range of plant-based products in the U.S., while in Europe, its Moy Park subsidiary supplies faux chicken burgers.
Industry revenue from plant-based meat, eggs and dairy alternatives are set to reach $290 billion by 2035, or 11% of the animal protein market, according to Boston Consulting Group. JBS Chief Executive Officer Gilberto Tomazoni said in a February interview that demand for faux burgers was growing so rapidly that it would likely set up a new global company focused solely on plant-based products.
Consumer interest has soared after startups like Beyond Meat Inc. and Impossible Foods Inc. popularized veggie burgers that imitate real beef, prompting the likes of McDonald’s Corp. and Starbucks Corp. to add alternative meat items to their menus. Nestle SA has been growing its plant-based business, while Unilever Plc acquired Dutch plant-based brand The Vegetarian Butcher in 2018.