Hancock enters Chilean ag with acquisition of majority stake in fruit exporter

Valoral Advisors founder Roberto Vitón says Hancock's entry into Chile’s ag sector comes amid US and European LP interest that has grown despite the country’s political challenges.

Hancock Natural Resource Group has acquired a majority stake in David Del Curto, a fruit production, packaging and export company headquartered in Santiago, Chile.

Financial details were not disclosed. HNRG global head of agricultural investments Oliver Williams said in a statement provided to Agri Investor the investment into DDC marked the firm’s entry into an “attractive” new agriculture market.

A source familiar with the deal told Agri Investor the stake acquired by Hancock had recently been valued at between $120 million and $130 million. Hancock did not respond to messages seeking further detail.

A statement from the Manulife Investment Management subsidiary said it had carried out the transaction on behalf of third-party clients and plans to pursue strategic growth opportunities for the company.

DDC grows at least 10 fruit types across 11 farms and packs and markets produce for roughly 90 third-party growers. The company maintains a nursery and three packing facilities from which it supplies cherries, table grapes, citrus, apples and other crops to customers in Europe, North America, the Middle East and Asia.

Boston-headquartered Hancock said its plans for DDC include expansion through redevelopment of existing orchards and development of land not currently in production.

HNRG’s agricultural investment unit manages a 400,000-acre portfolio of farmland located in the US, Canada and Australia. Its acquisition of a majority stake in DDC is part of an internal initiative to pursue farmland assets with integrated operations such as packaging, storage and distribution.

Hancock entered Chile’s timber sector in 2014 with its purchase of a 62,000-hectare plantation from MASISA, a local timber products company. In January 2018, it acquired an additional 12,500 hectares of forestland in central Chile from a subsidiary of Japanese conglomerate Mitsubishi.

Valoral Advisors founder Roberto Vitón told Agri Investor Hancock was known to have been investigating Chile’s permanent crop assets and said the firm’s entry into the market is an important milestone for the country’s ag sector.

Viton noted the deal continued a trend of growing interest in South American permanent crop properties among US and European institutional investors, despite a challenging political backdrop. In the case of Chile, he said, it is notable that Hancock’s acquisition was completed despite pandemic-related complications and an ongoing constitutional reform in the country.

“They are able and willing to invest even when there is uncertainty about possible changes to the tax system and social system,” he said. “I can imagine they have done a good assessment of all these risks and uncertainties and they have come to the conclusion that the assets are worth the risk.”

The willingness of investors to take on more uncertainty is also growing in other parts of a region to which most managers active in ag are still underexposed, he said.

“You are starting see these large institutions willing to get more exposure in the high-value crop business across South America. We are optimistic and seeing more interest building in places like Peru, Chile and also Colombia. We are even seeing [interest in] Brazil, in some areas, for tropical fruits.

“Many of these investors already have exposure in North America, in Australia. Some of them are also looking into Spain and Portugal. The other obvious region is the Andean region, so we expect to see more of these transactions.”