Wilbur-Ellis acquires aqua, livestock feed player

By Aerin Einstein-Curtis

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/Natalya Vilman
© GettyImages/Natalya Vilman

Related tags Aquaculture Mergers and acquisitions

Wilbur-Ellis is expanding its footprint in aquaculture and livestock feed production through the acquisition of Rangen, Inc.

The Washington-based feed and ingredient company announced the acquisition Wednesday [November 6].

Idaho-based Rangen, a privately-kept feed producer focused on aquaculture and livestock feeds, has been of interest to Wilbur-Ellis Nutrition for several years, said Andrew Loder, president of the nutrition division with Wilbur-Ellis.

Wilbur-Ellis Nutrition has a strategy to focus on livestock, pet food and aquaculture.

“Rangen made our gameboard for two of those three,” ​Loder told FeedNavigator. “It was well known in aquaculture and also had a presence in livestock – we had no idea if it would become available, but we wanted it to be on our radar.”

“It checked a lot of boxes for us, particularly the aquaculture one, but it really fit from a cultural standpoint and seemed to be a nice match for what Wilbur-Ellis is all about,”​ he added.

The acquisition is a “significant turning point”​ for Wilbur-Ellis’ nutrition division, he said. “It takes us into an area that we really wanted to get into and in a big way with a really respected brand – it will be transformative for our overall division.”

Aquaculture focus and moving forward

The acquisition of Rangen adds two aqua feed producing facilities – in Buhl, Idaho and Angleton, Texas – and brings in about 80 employees with both technical expertise and some who are subject matter experts, said Loder.

“We feel like we’ve got some things that will complement [those experts], a deep understanding of some nutrients used in aquaculture feed that we think we can bring to the table.”

Going forward, the intention is to expand the Rangen business, he said. “We really like the business, [and] we think it’s a great model that we can take to other parts of the US as well as other parts of the world.”

“We want to expand it and bring the resources and upgrades potentially to their facilities to meet customer demands today and into the future,”​ he said.

Wilbur-Ellis ups its game as a player in the aquaculture industry with this move, said Loder.

“With the acquisition of Rangen, we’re selling to the ultimate user of the feed,” ​he said. “Previously, we were selling the ingredients or nutrients that would be blended into those feeds, now we’ve taken that step to go directly to the consumer.”

The initial focus will be on domestic markets, working with several species including trout, shrimp and salmon, he said. “We are interested in expanding beyond the US [but] you have limitations [in that] unless you have facilities in other countries,”​ he added.

Investing in sustainability

The company is interested in expanding in the aquaculture space because of its growth rate and the sustainability picture, said Loder. “The conversion rate is the best in the feed industry,” ​he added.

In aquaculture, the amount of feed needed to generate one pound of edible protein is almost 1:1, he said. “We are being more environmentally conscious around what it takes to produce a pound of protein,” ​he added.

“The world is growing [and] there will be a requirement for more protein,”​ he said. “We just felt like aquaculture would be what people turn to when they think about sustainability.”

The sustainability focus and interest in aquaculture also prompted the investment in Beta Hatch in 2018, Loder said. Beta Hatch​ is a startup working with mealworms to generate insect-based protein as an alternative to using fishmeal in fish feeds.

“It’s a startup, so they’re a few years away from having commercially viable production levels, but that’s another story that we’re going to be able to tell,”​ he said. “We’ve already started making that connection between the Rangen team and Beta Hatch and what opportunities there might be.”

“We’re looking at other startups in that space that would complement the Rangen aquaculture story,” ​he added.

Rangen and livestock

Along with Rangen’s work in aquaculture, the company manufactured livestock feeds, said Loder. That production capacity complements Wilbur-Ellis’ production facilities in Utah and Oregon.

“We think they’re going to be very complementary in the products they offer, in the products we’ve been offering,” ​he said. “Now we can offer a broader portfolio to our customers and maybe a broader reach – we think there are a lot of opportunities there as well.”

The company had a strong technical staff in livestock feed, he added.

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