Mandate

As the exclusive food facilities broker for Treehouse Foods, Global Food Properties was charged with creating an accelerated sale campaign for a 77,000 SF, fully-equipped wafer cookie plant in Ripon, Wisconsin. Known as Ripon East, the wafer plant was one of two large Wisconsin bakery plants Treehouse inherited as part of its acquisition of the ConAgra Private Brands portfolio. Treehouse strategic plans call for consolidation where excess capacity so allows, and in the case of Ripon East, an immediate exit, as Treehouse was pulling out of the private-label wafer cookie business.

The value-in-use of any food facility, asset class aside (frozen production, protein production, dry/mixing and baking, etc.), typically exceeds the sale of an empty plant. Hence, Treehouse decided wisely to bundle all the machinery and equipment, together with the plant and affixed infrastructure, and instruct the Global Food Properties team to identify a like-kind wafer cookie manufacturer, where the value of the “whole” (plant and all equipment) would far exceed the sum of the disparate “pieces” (building, and secondary-market purchase and installation of necessary machinery).

Treehouse Foods defined a limited marketing horizon, ready to redeploy the surplus assets in other owned facilities if not-credible buyers surfaced within a narrow time-frame. With that, Global Food Properties initiated an aggressive cross-border campaign.

Context

The accelerated sale of the Ripon wafer plant faced three primary issues. First, wafer cookie consumption is in steep decline, and the category continues to thin nationwide. Second, even were Global Food Properties able quickly to identify the utopian user, chances are that manufacturer would compete with Treehouse in other categories, and as such, competitive issues would block a sale (few, if any, manufacturers will provide capacity at a discounted price to competitors, however broadly defined). 

3-Continents

And finally, wafer cookie manufacturing is concentrated largely in Western Europe, Mexico, and South America, where wafer cookie consumption remains robust and viable. As such, the marketing campaign necessarily had to be global in scope, focused primarily on ex-US manufacturers with a discernible presence and visibility within the domestic market. Ideally, those entities would be inclined towards direct foreign investment in the States, seeking to produce closer to the market at a lower cost.

Process

Global Food Properties was able quickly to identify the most credible wafer cookie companies worldwide. Source materials included its proprietary database, researching SIC and NAICS codes, and scouring retail shelves and grocery websites for less obvious wafer cookie manufacturers. As importantly, Global Food Properties attended the International Bakery Industry Exposition (“IBIE”) in Las Vegas in October, 2016, and through a calculated campaign of networking and personal solicitation, provided intense exposure among the 23,000 attendees captive for the event.

Among those exhibiting  was the sole US technical representative of Hebenstreit Gmbh, a German manufacturer whose highly engineered ovens are used exclusively in sheet wafer production. Global Food Properties suspected, correctly, that the pool of potential buyers, at least in the States, would be known to Hebenstreit’s US technical advisor. As such, Global Food Properties briefed the advisor on the rare opportunity, and armed the team with vital details to disseminate among all its customers, those customers, again, being wafer bakeries employing ovens and a production footprint identical to the available Ripon East facility.

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Result

Global Food Properties personally solicited every identifiable wafer cookie bakery on three continents. In the end, the lead came from Hebenstreit’s US technical advisor, whose daily contact with wafer cookie manufacturers created awareness of who was growing and expanding, or looking for additional capacity vis-à-vis the Hebenstreit ovens. Following a quick introduction to the New York-based company, Global Food Properties hosted several comprehensive plant tours, resulting in expedited negotiations and a closing on the sale in early May, 2017.

By any measure, this outstanding result was anything but random, as two conditions-precedent had to occur: the decision to attend the IBIE in October, 2016, and while there, to engage with and install on its “virtual” marketing team the Hebenstreit advisor, at once Global Food Properties’ most effective yet unobvious intelligence source.

Proof, once again, who you chose matters: creativity and industry connectivity are neither ordinary, nor the province of generalist brokers. Were it not for our execution of this unlikely series of campaign steps, the plant would have been stripped of equipment, incurring delay and carry cost along the way, only to have traded at a far lesser value. But this ordinary outcome was not the case; instead, the result was a win for all stakeholders. The Seller recovered a premium price; the utilities restored municipals loads and revenue; and most importantly, Ripon restored jobs and investment, yet another small but critical step in reclaiming its historic title as “Cookietown USA.”