Arlon Group, a private equity firm focused on food and agriculture, has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire a majority stake in Wholesome Sweeteners, the leader in organic and Fair Trade certified sweeteners, alongside Edward Billington & Son Ltd., one of Wholesome’s two historical shareholders. Arlon will become the majority shareholder in the business by acquiring a portion of Billington’s current ownership interest and all of the shares owned by Imperial Sugar Co. Billington’s continuing involvement, along with the retention and increased ownership stake of Wholesome’s management, guarantees continuity of the consumer focused philosophy and entrepreneurial culture. The transaction is expected to complete by the end of this month.
Based in Sugar Land, Texas, Wholesome Sweeteners was founded in 2001 as a joint venture between Imperial Sugar Co., and U.K.-based Edward Billington & Son. The company has grown to become the leading organic sweetener supplier in North America.
“This is a hugely exciting time for Wholesome. Arlon is quality-food focused and will provide the support and stability that will allow the business to reach the next level in our growth and development,” said Nigel Willerton, CEO of Wholesome Sweeteners. “Together we will capitalize on our strengths and leadership position to enhance our brand and explore expansion into other organic food categories.”
Wholesome Sweeteners’ strong management team that has delivered consistent growth well above the national organic industry rate and brand leadership in the natural foods channel are among the many factors that attracted Arlon. The company will remain based in Sugar Land with the leadership team continuing in their current roles.
“We are delighted to enter into this partnership to support the continued growth of Wholesome Sweeteners,” said Michelle Brooks, managing principal of Arlon Group. “Nigel and his team have built a remarkable company with an extraordinary vision and culture delivering the highest quality products that meet the growing consumer demand for socially responsible and environmentally sustainable farming practices. We look forward to the opportunity to assist in furthering the organization’s social and environmental commitment to all its stakeholders.”
As more and more people turn to organic food as a more reliable and safer way to feed themselves and their families, the industry is expected to experience continued growth. According to a survey conducted by the Organic Trade Association (www.ota.com), U.S. sales of organic food and beverages have grown from $1 billion in 1990 to $26.7 billion in 2010. Organic sales in 2010 represented 7.7 percent growth over 2009 sales.
“We started Wholesome Sweeteners with the ambitious vision of providing delicious, high-quality organic sweeteners with the health of our planet and our consumers in mind,” said Willerton. “A little more than 10 years later, the brand truly reflects where consumer demand is today and we are excited about being on the verge of still more growth.
“This year the company will continue its strong track record of innovation introducing several new organic sweeteners, including an Organic Coconut Palm Sugar and Organic Stevia, and the first Fair Trade Certified Organic Agave Syrups available to consumers.”
Providing Fair Trade Certified sweeteners will continue to be a core element of the company’s business model. Since pioneering the Fair Trade Certification process for sweeteners in 2005, Wholesome Sweeteners has paid more than $6 million in social premiums to benefit farming and beekeeping cooperatives in the developing world. Fair Trade premiums are paid over and above the price of the product and must be used by the co-op to benefit the community as a whole, including encouraging the practice of environmentally sustainable farming methods.