Manulife partners with California almond processor

The minority investment into Parreira Almond Holding Company is the first in support of a 'farmland plus' strategy spearheaded by NewAg Partners co-founder Marcus Wignell and a pair of former Bunge executives.

Manulife Investment Management has acquired a minority stake in a California almond processor, the first deal supporting its latest fund’s farmland-plus strategy to combine processing and marketing assets with farmland investments.

The Boston-headquartered firm has established a minority partnership with Parreira Almond Holding Company (PHAC), a family-owned almond hulling, shelling, processing and marketing company headquartered in Los Banos, California. Financial terms were undisclosed.

The PHAC deal was the first farmland-plus investment from the Manulife Permanent Cropland Plus Fund, which was launched last year with a target of $500 million and had raised $201 million from five LPs as of an April filing. Included among commitments to the fund is an investment of up to $50 million from the Teachers Retirement System of the State of Kentucky.

A Manulife representative told Agri Investor that firm representatives now fill two seats on PHAC’s board of directors and the investment will offer clients exposure to hulling and processing revenue streams that mitigate the impact of price volatility on growers.

“In years of high industry volumes, growers must face lower prices, while processors can benefit from the additional throughput associated with higher volumes,” the representative wrote.

Manulife’s Farmland Plus team is led by Marcus Wignell, a co-founder of NewAg Partners who assumed a Boston-based position with Manulife in 2022. According to his LinkedIn profile, Wignell held positions at Morgan Stanley, Deutsche Bank and elsewhere before establishing NewAg alongside Detlef Schoen in 2019.

Other Manulife personnel active in its Farmland Plus strategy include former Bunge executives Bill Devens, who joined Manulife in 2015, and Almin Hodzic, who joined last year.

In a 2021 white paper, Manulife described farmland plus as including investments focused on integration of agricultural assets and infrastructure supporting production, processing and marketing. It described the strategy as particularly well suited to agricultural supply chains being affected by changing consumer preferences and demands for transparency.

“For rapidly growing markets, such as specialty niche or organic crops, farmland-plus investments can be directed to necessary additions to agricultural infrastructure, such as sorting, manufacturing and storage facilities, or improvements to marketing and distribution channels,” analysts wrote.

The Manulife Investment Management Timber and Ag unit housing the Permanent Cropland Plus Fund managed $6.1 billion of discretionary assets and $9.1 billion on a non-discretionary basis at the end of 2022, according to a March filing. It formerly operated as Hancock Natural Resources Group and manages a portfolio that contains 400,000 farmland acres located in the United States, Canada, Australia and Chile.