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Richardson to buy Wesson cooking oil brand

ConAgra looks north for new buyer after ill-fated Smucker deal

A household name in U.S. cooking oils is set to become part of Canadian grain handler and oilseed processor Richardson International.

Chicago-based Conagra Brands said Tuesday it will sell its Wesson oil brand and related assets — including a 280,000-square foot U.S. processing plant at Memphis — to Richardson for an undisclosed sum.

Wesson-branded retail cooking oils, available in the U.S. for over 100 years, today include canola oil, corn oil, soy oil and “Best Blend,” a blended canola/soybean oil. Conagra has owned the brand since 1990, when it took over the Beatrice Co. product portfolio.

Richardson is already a known entity in Canadian and U.S. canola oil retail markets, where it sells the Canola Harvest oil and Crystal and Mirage margarine brands.

The Winnipeg company’s canola processing operations already include crush plants at Lethbridge, Alta. and Yorkton, Sask. and packaging plants at Lethbridge and at Oakville, Ont.

Conagra, whose brand stable includes Pam, Fleischmann’s, Duncan Hines, Reddi-wip, Slim Jim, Aunt Jemima, Chef Boyardee, Jiffy Pop and Orville Redenbacher’s among others, has sought to shed some of its business lines in recent years and become a “singularly focused, consumer branded food company.”

To that end, Conagra in 2016 spun off its Lamb Weston potato processing business and last year set up a deal to sell the Wesson brand to Ohio-based jam maker J.M. Smucker Co. for about US$285 million (C$384.6 million).

But the U.S. Federal Trade Commission challenged the Smucker deal in March this year, saying Smucker, owner of the Crisco brand, would have controlled at least 70 per cent of the market for branded canola and vegetable oils if it took over Wesson.

Asked via email Tuesday how the value of its acquisition compares to the aborted Smucker deal, a representative for privately-held Richardson reiterated the company won’t comment regarding the purchase price.

Conagra said its deal with Richardson, subject to the usual closing conditions and any required regulatory approvals, is expected to close by the end of the first calendar quarter of 2019.

Of the Wesson plant at Memphis, Richardson CEO Curt Vossen said in a release that the company is “excited about expanding into this geography and look(s) forward to investing in the future of this plant, the employees and the community.”

Richardson described the Wesson brand as “a preferred choice in American homes for cooking and baking applications for more than a century,” noting its marketing campaigns “firmly established the brand as a common household name for the health-conscious and discerning consumer.”

That said, Richardson added it plans to “reinvigorate the brand to engage customers.”

“The rich history of both our company and the Wesson brand makes this an exciting acquisition for us,” Vossen said. “We believe that consumers will continue to seek out high-quality foods and aligning with the Wesson brand expands our ability to meet that consumer desire.” — Glacier FarmMedia Network

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