Cargill, ConAgra Sell Mills To Allay Regulatory Concerns

Cargill, ConAgra Sell Mills To Allay Regulatory Concerns

In order to complete a proposed merger of their North American flour-milling businesses, the companies are first selling four mills, including one in Minnesota.

The formation of a massive joint venture including Cargill, Inc., CHS, Inc., and ConAgra Foods, Inc.—which was delayed by a U.S. Department of Justice antitrust review—appears to be moving forward, although the companies are making some concessions to pacify regulators.

The three agribusiness giants first announced their plans to combine their North American flour-milling businesses into a multibillion-dollar joint venture last spring. The venture, called Arden Hills, would unite Omaha, Nebraska-based ConAgra Mills and Horizon Milling, a joint venture formed between Wayzata-based Cargill and Inver Grove Heights-based CHS in 2002.

At the time of their initial announcement, the companies said they expected their deal to be completed in late 2013. The companies then delayed the deal amid regulatory concerns, before pushing it back a second time.

This week, the companies announced that Ardent Mills is expected to begin operations around May 29. While the deal remains subject to certain closing conditions, the companies have reached a deal with the Justice Department.

To allay regulatory concerns, Cargill and ConAgra plan to sell four flour-milling facilities to Miller Milling Company, a Bloomington-based firm. The sale of the mills is a requisite to sealing the deal, according to the Justice Department. The four mills, including one in New Prague, will be sold for $215 million, the Star Tribune reported.

The Justice Department had previously warned that the joint venture would stifle competition and could raise flour prices. But it said this week that Miller Milling “has only a minimal presence in the regions of concern,” adding that its acquisition of the four mills “will create a substantial, independent, and economically viable competitor in each relevant market.”

“The proposed settlement also prohibits the companies from exchanging information related to wheat purchases or use by customers to which the companies have sold wheat,” the Justice Department said.

Upon formation of the joint venture—which will be headquartered in Denver but will have a Twin Cities satellite office—Ardent Mills will include 40 flour mills, three bakery mix facilities, and a specialty bakery in the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico.

ConAgra Foods and Cargill will each own a 44 percent stake in Ardent Mills, while CHS will own a 12 percent interest.

“This joint venture positions Ardent Mills to deliver greater value and innovation to customers and consumers while enhancing customer and consumer choice,” Cargill Vice President Scott Portnoy said in a statement.