- Ardent Mills is acquiring Andean Naturals' quinoa sourcing, cleaning and packaging operation in Yuba City, California. The Denver-based ingredient and flour-milling company said the deal should be completed by the middle of this month, but did not disclose any financial details.
- The new business will be under The Annex, Ardent's specialty grain and plant-based ingredients unit. The Annex's portfolio includes ancient and heirloom grains, organic grains and flours, sprouted wheat and chickpeas.
- Ardent CEO Dan Dye said in the release the industry is changing fast as consumers continue to look for dietary variety. "As a result, we are making proactive investments in The Annex to meet consumer demand for high-quality, nutritious grains and other sources of plant-based ingredients. With this acquisition, we will be able to offer a complete solution for quinoa and other gluten-free ingredients," he said.
Yuba City will be the company's first gluten-free sourcing and cleaning facility with the ability to expand to additional grains. This facility could help the company increase its grain portfolio as it starts pivoting away from flour.
This latest acquisition follows a number of moves Ardent made last year to do just that. In 2019, Ardent bought an organic grain elevator in Oregon to bolster the company's ability to support growers in the Pacific Northwest. It also formed an exclusive partnership with Colorado Quinoa to clean, mill and market quinoa grown in that state, and invested in a Denver grain mill.
At the same time, the company has reduced its flour-milling capacity by closing four plants — in Georgia, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Minnesota — between last June and the current quarter. According to Reuters, these closures stemmed from anticipated reduction in demand and efforts to make the Ardent network more efficient. The company still has more than 35 mills, mixing facilities and a bakery spread across 20 states, Canada and Puerto Rico.
Ardent was launched in 2014 as an independent joint venture between Conagra, Cargill and CHS to introduce flour and grain innovations to the marketplace. Its combination of production expertise and recent M&A activity should help to provide Andean with expanded market access and support to scale up to take advantage of growing consumer interest in quinoa.
Quinoa, which is really a seed but is categorized as a pseudocereal and typically prepared as a grain, is getting more popular as consumers become aware of its nutritional qualities. Since quinoa contains all nine essential amino acids, it is a considered a complete protein. It also contains fiber, is gluten-free and provides a wealth of antioxidants and minerals, B vitamins and iron.
Getting into the quinoa business could be a smart move for Ardent, which has previously innovated with its Sustagrain High-Fiber Barley and chickpea flour and by developing pasta made with its Ultragrain whole-wheat flour and semolina.
The company's production capacity — along with the incoming Andean Naturals' California operations — could position Ardent to take further advantage of the continuing growth in ancient grains. Ancient grains started to see growth between 2015 and 2016 when the market jumped up 11.6%, according to Innova Market Inisghts, and that has continued. Industry Arc predicts that the ancient grains market will surpass $2.56 billion by 2023, growing at an annual rate of 36.6% from 2018 to 2023.
The top global category for grains has been in bakery, but they can be used in many other places. Ancient grains are gaining popularity among Americans in many different products from cereals, salads and breads to pizza, crackers and snacks.
Amaranth and quinoa have received more interest because of their gluten-free properties, according to Industry Arc. Quinoa appeared in 44% of all U.S. product launches containing ancient grains in 2017. Besides its grain-like uses, it is being made into powder and milk products and may find a role in making whiskey.
As this trend continues, Ardent will likely continue to move away from its flour business while looking to create opportunities for more grain- and plant-based ingredients destined for inclusion in a wide range of food and beverage products.