Unigrains pre-empts auction to buy world’s largest maker of baking equipment

The French group will acquire a rare majority stake in Mecatherm for €120m in a bid to internationalize and strengthen its control over the grain value chain.

Unigrains has entered exclusive negotiations to purchase Mecatherm, the world’s largest manufacturer of baking equipment, in an effort to expand globally and bolster its 150 portfolio companies.

The group’s binding offer values the company, which belongs to Paris-based private equity firm Wendel, at €120 million. Mecatherm posts annual sales of €100 million, 90 percent of which are generated outside France, according to Unigrains.

A Unigrains spokesman told Agri Investor that the firm had pre-empted an auction process for the business that M&A boutique DC Advisory was intending to launch, notably by presenting an offer that is not conditional to obtaining financing (though Unigrains may still look to do so between now and closing).

The deal differs from Unigrains’ usual transactions in that it involves nearly all of Mecatherm’s shares. The group, which typically invests between €1 million and €100 million in companies across the value chain, almost always buys minority stakes.

But this acquisition was seen as strategic for the group, which was founded in 1963 by French farmers to support the promotion of grains and other crops from production to distribution. As such, Mecatherm had long been seen as a potential target, the spokesman said, allowing the firm to move when Wendel considered a sale.

The transaction serves several purposes, from providing Unigrains’ 150 portfolio companies with industrial know-how to helping the group develop its international presence. “The acquisition of Mecatherm would represent a new strategic axis, complementary to our private equity activities and bring a unique vision of the evolution of the bread-bakery-pastry industry, a major asset for our partner companies,” said Philippe Pinta, Unigrains’ president.

Building a higher global profile has emerged as a priority for the group in recent years. In June, the group reached a €40 million first close on Fondo Agroalimentare Italiano, an Italian vehicle of which it is the sponsor and largest limited partner. The milestone came after Unigrains hired Shane Masters, a former exec at TIAA affiliate AGR Partners, to source direct deals in Northern Europe.

The group also has a partnership with Spanish-based MCH Private Equity, and is a limited partner in Brazil’s Aqua Capital, Africa-focused Phatisa, India’s SEAF and Agram Invest in Morrocco.