- Bunge has announced it will buy 70% of IOI Loders Croklaan, a palm oil and tropical oil product manufacturer based in Malaysia.
- With the acquisition, Bunge — a global agribusiness and commodities trader based in White Plains, New York — plans to enhance its position in the confectionery, baked goods and infant nutrition sectors and expand global research and development capabilities. IOI Loders Croklaan has technical centers in Malaysia, the Netherlands and the U.S., and its customer base includes Unilever, Nestle, Cadbury and Kraft.
- Analysts speculated that Bunge designed the deal to fend off a recent takeover attempt by Swiss commodities group Glencore. Bunge CEO Soren Schroder told Financial Times that discussions with IOI Loders Croklaan started about two years ago, and blocking a potential Glencore takeover had nothing to do with it.
Despite recently engaging in a round of cost-cutting measures after its second-quarter earnings slipped — blamed on weak margins and South American farmers hoarding their crops while waiting for prices to rise — Bunge has been slowly acquiring companies.
It bought Argentina oil producer Aceitera Martínez S.A. this past spring and expeller-pressed oil refiner and packager Whole Harvest Foods LLC in 2015. Financial terms of those deals were not disclosed.
Bunge said it anticipates the IOI Loders Croklaan deal will accelerate growth of its value-added oil business by broadening the portfolio of products, diversifying manufacturing and establishing a stronger presence in fast-growing Southeast Asia. The company estimates that its revenues from food and ingredients in that region of the world could be four times as large as they are today.
It will take time to find out whether that prediction is on target. However, one thing does seem clear: The additional debt Bunge is taking on to finance its stake in IOI Loders Croklaan will make it much more expensive to acquire — whether it's by Glencore or some other interested party.
Palm oil production in Malaysia and Indonesia is controversial because some companies engage in widespread deforestation and burn peatland areas in order to plant palm oil trees. The United Nations says palm oil plantations are a major source of environmental degradation and biodiversity loss in Southeast Asia.
Last year, Nestle cut ties with IOI (the parent company of IOI Loders Croklaan) after learning that the company's action plan for revising its production practices had not gone far enough. As of July 2016, 27 companies — among them Mars, Kellogg, Cargill and Unilever — had temporarily suspended sourcing palm oil from IOI until it got back into compliance with guidelines from the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil.
In Bunge's Sept. 12 announcement about the IOI Loders Croklaan deal, the company noted that both firms "are committed to sustainable sourcing, including zero-deforestation, zero peat conversion, protection of human rights, traceability and transparency."
The World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace and the Union of Concerned Scientists routinely engage in "naming and shaming" well-known brands for their perceived lack of commitment to using sustainable palm oil. To enhance both its reputation and its bottom line, Bunge has already signaled that it would prefer to keep itself and its growing number of palm oil customers off that list.