Avril outlines ambition to become trailblazer in plant-based protein while widening animal nutrition portfolio

By Jane Byrne contact

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/marchmeena29
© GettyImages/marchmeena29

Related tags: Sanders, Sofiprotéol, Avril Group

French agribusiness group, Avril, is looking at acquisitions in animal nutrition and farmer services, along with its other sectors it has identified as having significant potential: specialty ingredients, consumer brands, and renewable energy.

Sofiprotéol, Avril’s financial arm, is ready to help further develop all of those segments, Jean-Philippe Puig, CEO of the Avril group, told FeedNavigator on a call yesterday. “We have the capacity to invest. We had a very good year in 2020, and we are now ready to go on the offensive. But we are not in a rush, we will assess opportunities as they arise.”

Avril’s ambition is to become the leader in plant-based solutions for the food, agriculture, and environmental sectors, he said, leveraging the growing demand for plant-based meat alternatives, while continuing to meet demand for feed and nutritional specialties in farmed animal production.

In the move to become more streamlined, the agribusiness group is also planning to divest its pork and egg operations. No timeframe has been set, as yet, for their disposal and all options are on the table in relation to potential buyers, said the CEO.

Already offloaded is the group's specialist biosecurity division, Theseo. It was sold to Lanxess, in a move confirmed on April 1, 2021.

Financial performance

Avril’s financial results for 2020, published last week, showed its earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) rose 43% to €243m (US$292.7m); it also reported stable revenues of €5.8bn, with the group saying the data confirmed its overall business strategy and the recovery programs initiated since 2018.

Its specialty ingredient business for animal production – MixScience – performed well last year; that branch witnessed expanding market share in France, in Africa and in Brazil, where the portfolio benefited from strong Chinese demand and the growth of the poultry sector.

Avril’s livestock services division saw a mixed performance, however, in 2020, achieving an EBITDA of €21m, which was €4m lower than in 2019. Sanders, Avril’s complete feed business, was indirectly hit by the closure of restaurants and the food service sector, shutdown by the pandemic. It also faced a difficult end to the year due to the significant rise in the price of agri-commodity raw materials, which it was not able to pass on to farmers, and a surge in animal diseases in France.

“[The feed business] suffered in terms of volumes and margins,”​ said Puig. 

He is optimistic about a surge in consumption, overall, in Europe, as the pandemic eases, and vaccination rates start to rapidly increase, with the animal feed sector to capitalize on that: “We have started to see such a pattern emerge in China, and in the US, so we expect to see similar developments in Europe by September, at least.”

Plant-based products for the food industry

The market for plant-based protein for human consumption is growing by 14% per year, said the CEO. “It will continue to increase.”

Last year saw Avril form a joint venture with DSM to produce protein from rapeseed to serve the plant-based meat substitutes segment. That facility is based in Dieppe in northern France. Puig said it will be on stream at the end of this year.

We want to [encourage greater uptake of] rapeseed and, eventually, sunflower based protein products, as, today, plant-based meat alternatives are mainly based on soy.”

Last year, Avril’s financial arm also invested in Austria's Vegini last year, a company that makes meat-like products, such as hamburgers, from peas, and in Soufflet Alimentaire, a French group specializing in functional flours made from rice and naturally gluten-free pulses.

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