InVivo in talks to acquire French agribusiness peer Soufflet

PARIS (Reuters) – French cooperative group InVivo has entered exclusive talks to acquire family-controlled Soufflet in a deal that would create a French agribusiness giant with 10 billion euros ($12.17 billion)in sales, the two companies said on Wednesday.

The potential tie-up marks a new stage in Chief Executive Thierry Blandinieres’ overhaul of InVivo, a grouping of 192 farmer-owned cooperatives, while heralding the end of the Soufflet family’s control over the century-old grain group that bears its name.

“The combination of InVivo Group and Soufflet Group would lead to the creation of a French champion in agriculture and agribusiness with an international footprint,” they said in a statement.

The tie-up would allow the groups to combine their international grain trading activities while also bringing together complementary businesses with limited overlap, including Soufflet’s flour milling and malt production and InVivo’s wine distribution and garden retail, they said.

The deal, under which the Soufflet brand would be preserved, could close by the end of the 2021, they said.

Financial terms were not disclosed.

InVivo has in recent years sold its animal nutrition division Neovia to U.S. agribusiness group Archer Daniels Midland, while expanding its garden retail business and entering wine merchandising.

It restructured its grain trading unit after a series of losses, and developed a wheat and barley trading joint venture with two other cooperative groups, notably as a response to growing competition from Russia and Ukraine in export markets.

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Soufflet, one of Europe’s biggest grain handlers, has been the subject of takeover rumours in the past, partly because of a lack of family successor to take over the reins from Michel Soufflet, board chairman, and his son Jean-Michel, who is chief executive.

It also a leading international producer of malt, the barley-based ingredient used in beer and whisky.

($1 = 0.8220 euros)

Reporting by Sybille de La Hamaide and Gus Trompiz; editing by Jane Merriman and Philippa Fletcher

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