Ardent partners’ enthusiasm undiminished by delays

by Josh Sosland
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WASHINGTON — “We are excited to reach this milestone in the formation of Ardent Mills and eagerly anticipate the joint venture beginning operations this month,” said Paul Maass, president of Private Brands and Commercial Foods for ConAgra Foods, Inc. “We strongly believe in the merits of this transaction and the benefits it will bring to customers, consumers, wheat suppliers, shareholders and employees.”

Mr. Maass and other partners looking to establish Ardent Mills as a joint venture offered comments May 20 after the U.S. Department of Justice said its Antitrust Division had reached an agreement with the group that will allow the deal to move forward. The other partners in Ardent Mills are Cargill and CHS, Inc. The D.O.J. settlement was announced 441 days after the companies’ March 2013 announcement of their intention to combine milling assets to create Ardent.

Under the agreement, four flour mills will be divested by the Ardent partners.

ConAgra and Cargill expect to complete the sale of the four mills before May 29 to Miller Milling Co. Afterward, Ardent will operate 40 flour mills, 3 bakery mix facilities and a specialty bakery, with locations in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico.

The companies said Ardent, which will be based in Denver with offices in Omaha, Neb., and Minneapolis, is expected to begin operations on or about May 29. The companies had little to say about their negotiations or settlement with antitrust authorities.

“Today’s settlement is a result of our ongoing dialogue with the U.S. Department of Justice, and we are pleased to have the regulatory review completed,” the companies said. “Once formed Ardent Mills will work to fulfill the obligations under the settlement agreement while focusing its attention on helping customers innovate and grow and providing expanded opportunities for wheat growers.”

They said the transaction remains subject to financing and other certain customary closing conditions.

Emphasizing benefits that will accrue to CHS Inc. member wheat growers and grain handlers was Mark Palmquist, executive vice-president and chief operating officer-Ag Business, CHS Inc.

“The formation of Ardent Mills will provide expanded opportunities for wheat growers and co-ops because the new company’s asset base will provide additional sourcing opportunities,” he said. “In addition, Ardent Mills’ product innovation capabilities and other strengths will enable these wheat growers to further connect to the consumer marketplace.”

Scott Portnoy, a corporate vice-president at Cargill, pointed to downstream benefits.

“This joint venture positions Ardent Mills to deliver greater value and innovation to customers and consumers while enhancing customer and consumer choice,” he said.

A ConAgra spokesperson added, “Ardent Mills will offer a unique set of services, including product development resources, technical and application support, supply chain management and commodity price risk management. Ardent Mills also will tap the market knowledge, transportation logistics, consumer insights, wheat sourcing capabilities, food ingredients and culinary expertise currently available through ConAgra Foods, Cargill and CHS.”
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