Groupe Limagrain

BP 1
Rue Limagrain
Telephone: (+33) 4 73 63 40 00
Fax: (+33) 4 73 63 40 44
Web site:

Private Cooperative Company
1942 as Coopérative de Production et de Vente de Semences Sélectionnées du Massif Central
Employees: 5,400
Sales: EUR 1.1 billion ($1.31 billion) (2004)
NAIC: 111421 Nursery and Tree Production; 424210 Drugs and Druggists' Sundries Merchant Wholesalers; 424490 Other Grocery and Related Product Merchant Wholesalers; 424910 Farm Supplies Merchant Wholesalers; 541710 Research and Development in the Physical Sciences and Engineering Sciences

Groupe Limagrain is one of the world's leading producers of seeds, especially in Europe, where the group has long held the position as the top producer of corn, wheat, and other seeds for the professional market through its Anjou, Nickerson, and LG brands. Limagrain is also the world's leading supplier of seeds to the home gardening market and one of the top suppliers of vegetable seeds to the professional segment through its holding of Vilmorin Clause & Cie. The company is also active in the North American market through its 50 percent share of the AgReliant joint-venture in the United States and Canada, as well as its ownership of the Harris Moran Seed Company, among others. The company has also extended it reach into food products, supplying flour and other bakery ingredients through subsidiary Limagrain Céréales Ingrédients. In addition, the company owns Jacquet SA, France's second-largest industrial baking group. Acquisitions have formed an important part of Limagrain's growth and continue to play a role in its development. In 2004, for example, Limagrain acquired Westhove, in Blendeques in the north of France. In March 2005, the company purchased Advanta Seeds Inc., including its European businesses in corn, cereals, rapeseed, sunflower, and other vegetable seeds in Europe, and grass seed and sunflower seed production in Oregon and North Dakota in the United States. Limagrain remains unusual among the world's leading agro-industrial groups in that it has retained its status as a privately held cooperative, with 600 farmer-members based in the Auvergne region in France. In 2004, Limagrain posted sales of EUR 1.1 billion ($1.35 billion).

Wartime Beginnings

The Nazi occupation of France during World War II made it difficult for the country's farmers to ensure their seed supply. In 1942, a group of farmers in the Limagne plains area, near Clermont-Ferrand in the Auvergne region, joined together to create a cooperative to produce and distribute seeds. The new organization was called Coopérative de Production et de Vente de Semences Sélectionnées du Massif Central.

The cooperative at first specialized in the production of wheat seed. In the postwar period, however, the cooperative began investigating other seed markets. In the mid-1960s, it teamed up with the state-run research institute INRA in order to develop and produce new corn varieties. The cooperative adopted a new name, Limagrain in 1965, and in that year also decided to specialize in the research, development, and production of seeds for new corn varieties. By 1970, this effort led to the launch of the highly successful LG 11 corn variety.

During the 1970s, Limagrain, with its LG brand, emerged as a leading seed producer in France and increasingly throughout Europe as well. The cooperative also began seeking opportunities for expansion into other seed markets. In 1975, the group made its first significant acquisition when it purchased the venerable Vilmorin-Andrieux.

Vilmorin-Andrieux itself had its roots in the mid-18th century, when Madame Claude Geoffrey, who had already established a reputation as "maitresse grainetière" in Paris, married Pierre d'Andrieux, who served as seed supplier and botanist for King Louis XV. The couple opened a boutique in 1743 and in 1775 brought in son-in-law Philippe Victoire de Vilmorin. Vilmorin's grandson, Louis de Vilmorin, took over the company in the early 19th century and by the middle of the century had become recognized as one of the leading botanists of the day.

The acquisition of Vilmorin-Andrieux not only added the prominent brand name, it also added an entire new business in seeds for vegetables, fruits, and flowers and other ornamental plants. The purchase also paved the way for Limagrain's development into one of the world's major agro-industrial groups.

European Focus in the 1980s

Limagrain's expansion continued at the end of the 1970s and into the early 1980s. Acquisitions played an important role in the cooperative's growth, enabling it to extend itself into new areas of business and to consolidate its existing operations. Limagrain's next major acquisition came in 1979, when it acquired Tézier, in France. Founded in 1785 by Pierre Tézier, that company had long been a prominent supplier of vegetable seeds to the French market and had also developed a strong international presence as well. The combination of Vilmorin and Tézier under Limagrain boosted the cooperative to the leading ranks of European seed producers.

Limagrain made its first efforts to expand into the North American market at the beginning of the 1980s. After establishing a corn research facility in the United States in 1979, Limagrain added a production subsidiary with the purchase of Ferry Morse in 1981.

Ferry Morse had been formed in 1930 from the merger of two seed companies founded in the 19th century, DM Ferry Co, established in 1856, and CC Mores and Co., founded in 1874. The merged company grew strongly over the following decades and by the time of its acquisition by Vilmorin already held a leading position as a supplier of home garden seeds in the United States.

Nonetheless, Limagrain's primary focus into the early 1990s remained its expansion in Europe. The company also sought to extend its range of operations. In 1983, Limagrain set up its own corn mill, establishing itself as a supplier of grain to the food production industry. The cooperative also boosted its research and development component with the creation of a new plant biotech laboratory at the University of Clermont Ferrand in 1986.

Gardening had long been a prominent consumer market in France, and a significant proportion of the population cultivated their own vegetable gardens. The development of specialist retailers catering to the home gardening market encouraged Limagrain to create a dedicated umbrella structure for its various consumer-oriented operations. In 1989, the cooperative created Oxadis, which became the marketing and distribution operation for the Vilmorin and Tézier seed brands, as well as a line of pet foods and supplies, which were closely associated with the home gardening retail market.

Limagrain continued to expand its consumer operations and in 1990 acquired 80 percent of Flora-Frey, the leading seed brand in Germany. Following that acquisition, Limagrain created Ceres, a new holding company for its vegetable and flower seeds businesses, including Vilmorin, Tézier, Flora-Frey, Ferry Morris, and Oxadis. Then, in 1992, Limagrain renamed its gardening seeds operation Vilmorin & Cie., which then took over Ceres and its companies. This move preceded Vilmorin's public offering in that same year, when its shares were listed on the Paris Bourse. Limagrain remained the majority shareholder of Vilmorin, while Vilmorin became a vehicle for further growth for the cooperative through the 1990s.

Targeting North America in the 1990s

Limagrain had also taken significant steps toward becoming the leading seed supplier for the European market. In 1990, the company had acquired Anglo-Dutch company NickersonZwaan. That purchase, which gave Limagrain prominent positions in the Netherlands and in the United Kingdom, represented the group's return to wheat seeds. Nickerson-Zwaan also added a variety of other crop seeds, including sugar beets, cabbage, gherkins, and lettuce.

The cooperative also deepened its interest in the consumer end market in the mid-1990s. In 1995, Limagrain became a major force in the French industrial breads market when it purchased Jacquet SA. That company had its origins in a small, family-owned bakery opened by Philibert Jacquet in Paris in 1880. Jacquet invented a new type of toast, Pain Grillé, which he patented and marketed under the Jacquet brand. In 1946, the Jacquet company was bought up by Lucien Joulin. Under Joulin, Jacquet became the first in France to produce pre-sliced, packaged bread. Sold at first in bakeries and shops in Paris, the new type of packaged proved popular, and in 1959 Jacquet opened a large-scale production facility to produce its Grand Blanc white bread. The rise of the supermarket in France presented a new opportunity for Jacquet, which quickly became a leading producer of packaged breads in that country.

Company Perspectives:

Impossible to imagine a world with no future. The finest raw material. Exploring new ways of improving plants. Extending our business to new territories. Breeder and producer of plant varieties, Limagrain strives to bring the very best out of the earth. It has always pursued the same ambition: to explore new ways of improving plants. Corn, wheat, rape-seed, tomatoes, carrots, melons . . . , Limagrain imagines the seeds to be used by tomorrow's farmers and market gardeners, preparing food products for future generations. This ambitious mission requires patience and perseverance, a constant attention to detail and a clear vision of the future; the men and women of Limagrain are imbued with a sense of continuity and innovation that is necessary for all sustainable development. By working through integrated chains, with regular increases in research investment and a wide open vision of the world, Limagrain makes full use of its internationally recognized brands to offer quality solutions for farmers, market gardeners and food industrialists, and so meet consumer expectations as closely as possible.

In addition to its extension into this new consumer market, Limagrain had become interested in expanding into other markets. In the early 1990s, the cooperative redoubled its efforts to establish itself in North America. Once again, acquisitions formed a major part of the company's expansion strategy. In 1993, for example, the company acquired Biotechnica, based in Kansas City. This purchase was followed by the purchase of Ontario's KingAgro, a seed company with particular focus on the canola market. The company also began producing corn seed in the United States, launching this operation in 1994.

These and other acquisitions helped transform Limagrain into a truly global operation. Where previously Europe had accounted for some 95 percent of Limagrain's revenues, by the middle of the 1990s the North American market already represented more than 35 percent of the group's total income. In 1997, the cooperative boosted its North American presence again, this time acquiring one of the market's leading seeds suppliers, Harris Moran. That company had been formed in the early 1980s under parent company Celanese, a chemical company that had entered the seeds business in the early 1970s. Harris Moran was later taken over by Lafarge Coppee. In 1990, Lafarge Coppee joined with Rhone Poulenc to acquire a French seeds business as well, Clause.

This company too came under Limagrain's control following its acquisition of Harris Moran. Clause was then merged into Vilmorin, which became known as Vilmorin Clause & Cie.

GMOs and Global Growth in the 2000s

In 1997, Limagrain became the majority partner in the creation of Biogemma, which focused on the development of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Despite the European restrictions on the use of GMOs, the creation of Biogemma was seen as a necessity in order to guarantee Limagrain's competitiveness in the future. The company also entered the development of plants for pharmaceutical uses, creating Meristem in 1997. One of that subsidiary's first patents, however, was revealed to be a means of creating a so-called "terminator" gene sequence that prevented seeds from germinating after harvest.

Limagrain reinforced its position in North American in 2000 when it formed a 50–50 joint venture with the U.S. company KWS. Called AgReliant, the new company combined Lima-grain's North American corn seed operations with KWS's soybean business.

Two years later, in Europe, Limagrain moved to consolidate its various food ingredients operations under a single umbrella company, Limagrain Céréales Ingrédients (LCI). This company took over Limagrain's various ingredients brands, including DAFA enzymes, milling compensators, and improvers; MCT maize-based semolina ingredients; FCI texturing agents; and Sofalia food fibers.

As it moved toward mid-decade, Limagrain remained dedicated to its growth through acquisition strategy. In 2003, the company, through Vilmorin Clause & Cie, acquired a majority stake in Israel's Hazera, a leading producer of tomato seeds. The following year, the company added Germany's Carl Sperling & Co., a specialist in vegetable seeds, which was combined with Vilmorin Clause's Flora Frey operations. At the end of 2004, Limagrain boosted its grains business with the acquisition of France's Westhove, founded in Blendecques in 1854. This purchase was followed by the acquisition of Advanta Seeds Inc.'s vegetable seeds operations in Europe, as well as that company's sunflower and grass seeds operations in North Dakota and Oregon, respectively. Limagrain was by then counted among the world's top-ranking seeds producers, a feat the group achieved without abandoning its roots as an Auvergne region cooperative.

Key Dates:

A group of farmers create the Coopérative de Production et de Vente de Semences Sélectionnées du Massif Central in order to provide a dependable source of wheat seeds during World War II.
The organization changes its name to Limagrain and specializes in the development of corn seeds.
The highly successful LG 11 corn variety is launched.
Expansion begins with the acquisition of garden seeds group Vilmorin.
Seeds specialist Tézier is acquired.
Limagrain purchases Ferry Morse Seeds in the United States.
Production of cereals-based food ingredients is launched.
Oxadis is created as a marketing wing for home garden seeds and pet supplies.
Nickerson-Zwaan, a producer of wheat and vegetable seeds, is acquired.
Vilmorin is listed on the Paris Stock Exchange.
The cooperative expands into consumer and industrial bakery products with the purchase of Jacquet.
Harris Moran Seed Company in the United States is acquired.
Limagrain merges its North American corn seeds operation into AgReliant joint-venture with KWS.
Limagrain Céréales Ingredients subsidiary is created to consolidate the group's food ingredients operations.
A majority stake in Israel's Hazera, a world-leading producer of tomato seeds, is acquired.
Limagrain purchases WestHove in France.
The European vegetable seeds businesses of Advanta Seeds Inc. are acquired.

Principal Subsidiaries

AgReliant Genetics Inc. (Canada; 50%); AgReliant Genetics LLC (United States; 50%); Biogemma (55%); Clause/Tézier; Eurodur (44%); Ferry Morse (United States); Flora Frey/Sperling (Germany); Force Limagrain SA; Génoplante Valor SAS (48%); Harris Moran Seed Company; Hazera Genetics; Jacquet Céréales Technologies; Jacquet SA; Kyowa (Japan; 40%); Limagrain Central Europe; Limagrain Céréales Ingrédients; Limagrain Genetics; Limagrain Genetics Inc (United States); Limagrain Italia SpA (Italy); Limagrain Nederland BV (Nether-lands); Limagrain Verneuil Holding; Limagrain-Nickerson GmbH (Germany); Maïs Angevin-Nickerson SA; Marco Polo Seeds (Thailand-Indonesia); Mikado (Japan; 20%); Nickerson International Research GEIE; Nickerson UK Ltd.; Oxadis; Société Meunière du Centre (36%); Soygenetics LLC (United States; 37%); Suttons Group Ltd. (United Kingdom); Ulice; Van den Berg BV (Netherlands); Vilmorin/Nickerson Zwaan.

Principal Competitors

Monsanto Company; Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc.; Syngenta.

Further Reading

"KWS, Limagrain Merge Interests in North America," Feedstuffs , February 14, 2000, p. 27.

"Limagrain Acquires Advanta Seeds Inc," Chemical Market Reporter , March 21, 2005, p. 11.

"Limagrain, la coopérative auvergnate rivale de Monsanto," Monde , August 25, 2001.

"Limagrain: le semencier génétique," Expansion , October 2003.

"Westhove Joins Limagrain," International Food Ingredients , December 2004, p. 12.

—M.L. Cohen

Also read article about Groupe Limagrain from Wikipedia

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