Ajinomoto Said to Place M&A Expert in Europe to Hunt Deals

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Ajinomoto key fob filled with MSG flavor enhancer.

Ajinomoto Co., the Japanese maker of flavors and food ingredients, has posted an executive in Europe to hunt for acquisition targets in the region, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.

The executive joined Ajinomoto’s European headquarters in the last couple of weeks, and other colleagues have been stationed at other regional headquarters, said the person, who asked not to be identified because the move has yet to be formally announced. A representative for the company declined to comment.

The postings show Ajinomoto remains keen to acquire assets and brands in Europe and elsewhere, after it was outbid by Archer Daniels Midland Co. in the auction of Germany’s Wild Flavors GmbH, eventually sold last year for about $3.1 billion. Ajinomoto, the creator of monosodium glutamate flavoring more than 100 years ago, is less than one month into the leadership of Chief Executive Officer Takaaki Nishii, who took over from Masatoshi Ito on June 26.

Past deals of the company, which has a market value of about $14 billion, include the purchase of a food-additive plant from the U.K.’s Tate & Lyle Plc in 2002. Last year, it bought closely held Windsor Quality Holdings LP for about $800 million in its biggest purchase to date, to pursue growth in the U.S. frozen foods market.

Ajinomoto, which is betting on demand for ramen noodles and other Asian-inspired foods, plans to sell more of its products such as dumplings and noodles through Windsor’s sales network in North America. It’s also keen to pick up brands where its MSG-based technology can be used to lower the fat or salt content in products such as ice cream and chocolate.

Heated Market

The Japanese company was one of a number of bidders that baulked at the high valuation placed on Wild Flavors, a maker of natural flavorings for beverages and foods. The acquisition valued Wild Flavors at 14 times its estimated 2015 earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, while market leader Givaudan traded at 13 times at the time of the deal.

While multiples for M&A assets are high, the valuations are encouraging owners to sell their businesses, Gilles Andrier, the CEO of Givaudan, the world’s largest flavors and fragrance company, said in an interview today. As well as looking for assets to help build up its cosmetic ingredients business, the Vernier, Switzerland-based company is interested in opportunities in food and beverage.

International Flavors & Fragrances Inc. last month agreed to buy Lucas Meyer from Unipex Group for 283 million euros to move into the cosmetic ingredients space. The takeover is expected to add 40 million euros to revenue annually, implying a sales multiple of seven times.

“I was happy to see IFF” buy Lucas Meyer for two reasons, Andrier said in the interview. “They are following us and shows we are doing something right, and second they are paying a ton of money for something that was not worth so much.”

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