Exclusive: Unigrains goes direct in Northern Europe with hire of TIAA affiliate exec

Shane Masters will help Unigrains source sizeable deals in the region as the French firm steps up efforts to internationalize.

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Shane Masters will help Unigrains source sizeable deals in the region as the French firm steps up efforts to internationalize.

Unigrains has hired Shane Masters to spearhead its expansion in Northern Europe.

The French agri-business investor will seek to source direct deals in an area focused on the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and Ireland, with Masters entrusted to structure the strategy, Unigrains chief executive Jean-François Laurain told Agri Investor.

Masters joins from AGR Partners, an affiliate of TIAA, where he was a vice-president in charge of originating and developing new investment opportunities. He was previously a consultant for Nestlé’s agriculture team, after a period with law firm Linklaters in London, Stockholm and Paris.

The move marks a shift for Unigrains, which so far had largely thought to expand its investments internationally by investing in funds or co-investing with local GPs.

In Spain, for instance, the firm backs Madrid-based MCH Private Equity, both as a co-investor alongside the firm’s Fund IV and as the only LP in a €20 million, MCH-managed vehicle. The latter sealed its debut deal earlier this month when it took a minority stake in organic coconut water business Genuine Coconut.

In Northern Europe, Unigrains will seek to back larger companies with solid growth potential, Laurain said, with equity tickets of up to €100 million. It may also use its co-investment vehicle, backed by institutional co-investors.

“The decision is in line with our ongoing internationalisation and objective to be increasingly active beyond France. This strategy is fully supported by our shareholders,” Laurain said.

He added that Unigrains typically holds on to portfolio companies for five to eight years, a time horizon that suits potential co-investors. The firm had €754 million in equity capital and 185 companies in its portfolio as of 31 December 2016.

It deployed €150 million in 2016, and has invested in more than 1,000 companies since inception.