ADM upbeat on profit potential in nutrition

NEW YORK — Nutrition represents approximately 15% of operating profit at ADM, but executives of the Chicago-based company have called out the platform for its potential to drive the majority of profit growth over the next several years. That potential would have been unheard of a decade ago.

“I think sometimes people don’t get is how early are we in the game of building this business (nutrition),” Juan R. Luciano, president and chief executive officer, said during a May 18 presentation during the BMO Capital Markets Global Farm to Market Conference in New York. “This is a business (that) didn’t exist in ADM in 2014, and it’s a business that is going to make, give or take, north of $800 million in operating profit this year and probably $1 billion of operating profit next year.”

The $1 billion figure is a lofty target for a business that Mr. Luciano acknowledged is still “at the early stages.”

Much of the optimism stems from the fact ADM sees a clear runway to growth of 15% to 20% over the next 5 to 10 years.

“We are significantly underrepresented from a geography perspective,” Mr. Luciano said. “We are very good in the areas that are growing the least like North America and Europe, but we are just getting started in Latin America and Asia Pacific, and basically has been a business where we have positioned ourselves very, very well in applications that are growing fast and in customers that are growing fast.”

ADM has a broad portfolio of products to contribute to nutrition, but more importantly, Mr. Luciano said, is the fact the company entered the category with a plan.

“We knew we were late to this industry,” he said. “So when we look at the industry, we said, ‘How can we differentiate ourselves?’ And our way to do that was to change the paradigm. Instead of people competing in verticals of colors and flavors and texture and some proteins, we said, ‘I don’t want to look at the business like that.’ We want to look at the $30 billion to $40 billion … in general business. And we introduced this concept of bringing systems into it. So not only (do) we have the best pantry, but we have the fastest speed to get the customer or the marketing department of a customer to a product to be launched in a few months. And that, I think, was the recipe for this accelerated growth.”

ADM steadily has expanded its presence in nutrition, beginning with human nutrition, beverages and food, and gradually adding pet and biomaterials.

Mr. Luciano said a “high proportion” of the $1.3 billion in capital that ADM plans to spend in 2022-23 is earmarked for nutrition. He stopped short of saying that the company has any plans for a major acquisition in the category over the next five years, though.

“We continue to think ourselves as organic growth and some bolt-on M&A,” he said. “I think these last 10 years of cheap money have exacerbated valuations in the nutrition space. So we try to be very targeted and very shy in terms of how much M&A we put into that. We think that those valuations may correct, and then we can flex our balance sheet.”

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