Maple Leaf to buy U.S. veggie dog, burger maker

Canadian meat packer Maple Leaf Foods is buying space on the non-meat side of the deli section with a deal for U.S. processor Lightlife Foods.

Toronto-based Maple Leaf announced Tuesday it would pay US$140 million for Lightlife, which makes vegetarian burgers, hot dogs, sausage, deli cuts, jerky and other meatless protein products at Turners Falls, Mass., about 130 km west of Boston.

“Consumers are increasingly looking to diversify their protein consumption, including plant-based options,” Maple Leaf CEO Michael McCain said in a release.

“The acquisition of Lightlife provides Maple Leaf with a leading market position and brand in the United States in a category that is outpacing growth in the broader packaged foods sector.”

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Maple Leaf, he said, “will expand our presence through investment in brand building, innovation and leveraging our respective capabilities.”

According to Maple Leaf, Lightlife booked sales of about US$40 million in 2016 and has a share of about 38 per cent in the U.S. refrigerated plant proteins market.

Protein sources for Lightlife’s product lines include soy, peas, beans, chickpeas, quinoa, chia and hempseed.

The U.S. market for plant-based proteins is estimated at around US$600 million, with the refrigerated category representing over US$110 million with a double-digit rate of annual growth, Maple Leaf said.

Lightlife, which began operating as Tempeh Works in a converted car wash in 1979 and rebranded in 1984, today employs about 100 people at Turners Falls, where it set up shop in 1998.

The deal is expected to close next month, after which company management are to continue to lead the business as a Maple Leaf subsidiary.

Greenwich, Connecticut-based private equity firm Brynwood Partners has owned Lightlife since 2013, when it bought the business for an undisclosed sum from ConAgra Foods. Lightlife sold itself to ConAgra in 2000, also for an undisclosed amount.

The deal with Maple Leaf “reaffirms our position as the leading lower middle market buyout firm for corporate carve-outs,” Brynwood CEO Hendrik Hartong said in a separate release.

Brynwood, he added, is “confident that Maple Leaf Foods will be able to continue to invest in and grow the business.”

Brynwood’s other plays in the food business include juice makers Sunny D and Harvest Hill Beverage Co., pasta and sauce maker Joseph’s Gourmet Pasta and snack food makers Back to Nature and Pearson’s. –– AGCanada.com Network

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