Vega Foods manufactures plant-based powdered shakes and snack bars.

DENVER — WhiteWave Foods Co. is expanding its footprint in the plant-based nutrition market with the acquisition of Vega Foods, a maker of vegan, soy-free and gluten-free powdered shakes and snack bars, for $550 million in cash.

 “In addition to strengthening our leadership position in plant-based foods and beverages, it also provides us with an entry into the high-growth nutritionals category, which is on-trend and currently over $8.5 billion in U.S. sales alone,” said Gregg Engles, chairman and chief executive officer of WhiteWave, during a June 10 presentation at the Deutsche Bank Global Consumer Conference in Paris. “While the total category has been experiencing double-digit growth, the plant-based nutrition portion has been growing even faster at a 15% annual compound rate over the past five years. In addition, the plant-based protein portion of the category, which is Vega’s core market, is relatively small compared with all other proteins. We believe this provides a significant opportunity to source future growth.”

WhiteWave’s portfolio also includes Silk and So Delicious plant-based foods and beverages, International Delight and Land O Lakes coffee creamers and beverages, Horizon Organic premium dairy products and Earthbound Farm organic salads, fruits and vegetables.

Founded in 2004, Vancouver, B.C.-based Vega’s products are made with non-bioengineered ingredients, including organic sprouted whole grain brown rice and pea protein, chia and hemp seeds, organic peanut butter, and such vegetables as spinach, broccoli and kale. The company generated approximately $100 million in sales over the past year.

Gregg Engles, chairman and c.e.o. of WhiteWave.

“It has been growing at a rapid pace of over 30% on a constant currency basis over that period and is growing at roughly twice that rate so far in 2015,” Mr. Engles said. “In addition to a track record of robust growth and a strong margin profile, we believe that Vega is now at an inflection point in its growth with significant momentum at its back. We’re extremely excited to be adding it to our plant-based portfolio.”

The transaction is expected to close in the third quarter of 2015 and will be accretive to WhiteWave’s earnings next year.

“We expect Vega to provide adjusted e.p.s. of at least 6c in 2016 and at least 9c on a cash e.p.s. basis when excluding transaction-related intangible amortization,” Mr. Engles said. “We expect neutral to modest e.p.s. accretion in the back half of 2015 depending upon when the transaction closes.”

Last year, WhiteWave acquired organic produce supplier Earthbound Farm for $600 million and So Delicious Dairy Free, a maker of plant-based frozen desserts, for approximately $195 million. Growing demand for dairy-free, gluten-free and non-bioengineered foods positions WhiteWave and its stable of clean label brands for future growth.

“Our categories are large and growing categories,” Mr. Engles said. “U.S. organic food and beverage sales are $35 billion; dairy and dairy alternatives in the U.S. and the European Union total $89 billion; and U.S. coffee and coffee creamer sales total $13 billion. Not only does each category provide a large and established source of volume from which we will continue to drive our growth, but our subcategories are also growing rapidly, helping to drive overall category growth.

“In addition, household penetration in our categories remains significantly underdeveloped, leaving tremendous whitespace for future growth.”

Last year, WhiteWave acquired organic produce supplier Earthbound Farm for $600 million.

WhiteWave’s plant-based platform has generated double-digit compound annual growth over the past few years behind strength in almond beverages. The company is building on momentum in the category with the recent launches of Silk cashew milk, So Delicious cashew milk ice cream and Silk yogurt.

“We view plant-based foods and beverages as a global opportunity as space and resources become more limited and people focus on the nutritional and environmental impacts of what they consume,” Mr. Engles said. “Our plant-based beverages are all non-G.M.O., gluten-free with fewer calories and fat, no cholesterol, less sugar and carbohydrates and contain more vitamin D and calcium than conventional dairy milk.

“Moreover, the production of plant-based beverages takes four times less land, 80% less water and emits 60% less greenhouse gases than their dairy equivalent products. As a result we believe plant-based foods and beverages are a significant global opportunity that is in the early stages of broad consumer acceptance, which we view as a vast opportunity for future growth for WhiteWave.”

Denver-based WhiteWave had net sales of more than $3.4 billion in 2014 and a market cap of more than $8 billion. The company has approximately 4,500 employees globally with operations in North America, Europe and a joint venture in China.