CHICAGO — Success ADM has achieved in becoming a global leader in the probiotic category points to opportunities the company sees in the nutrition space more broadly and as a vehicle to help sustain strong financial performance well into the future, said Juan R. Luciano.
In a dialogue with Alexia J.B. Howard, a senior analyst with Sanford C. Bernstein & Co., LLC, Mr. Luciano spoke expansively about ADM’s high level strategic objectives. At the same time, he became more granular in discussing ADM’s emerging Nutrition business.
The May 31 discussion was part of the Sanford C. Bernstein Strategic Decisions Conference.
Mr. Luciano projected the Nutrition division would reach $1 billion in operating profits “very soon,” compared with $736 million in 2022 and $691 million in 2021. ADM’s total adjusted operating profits in 2022 were $6.6 billion.
He said ADM became “excited about the microbiome” in the mid-2010s, setting in motion from modest beginnings a series of investments in the space. Six years later, ADM has the top selling branded bioactive supplement on Amazon, Mr. Luciano said.
“We believe strongly in the connection between food and the microbiome,” he said. “We acquired first a company for less than €20 million.”
ADM in March 2017 acquired a 90% stake in Biopolis S.L. a biotechnology company engaged in research, development and production services with broad applications — including food, pharmaceuticals, chemicals and energy. Powering this capability, Biopolis said, was a “a multidisciplinary team of highly qualified personnel with proven experience in the fields of biochemistry, molecular biology, fermentative process scaling, genetics, chemical engineering, microbiology, nutrition and food technology.”
“We acquired basically 65 PhDs,” Mr. Luciano said. “Of course, then we didn’t have a lot of capacity. We didn’t have a lot of ability to sell.”
About 17 months later, ADM gained capacity with the August 2018 acquisition of Probiotics International Ltd. for £185 million. Known more commonly under its brand name Protexin, the company is a UK-based manufacturer of health care and probiotic supplements for human, pet and production-animal use.
“(Protexin) was a marketing machine” able to bring to market the technology developed and clinical trials conducted by Biopolis, Mr. Luciano said.
In November 2021 ADM acquired capacity in the United States with the acquisition of Deerland Probiotics & Enzymes, a supplier of dietary supplements using probiotic, prebiotic and enzyme technology.
“Today, ADM has the No. 1 bioactive selling brand in Amazon,” Mr. Luciano said. “Bio-Kult is one of those brands. So is Protexin. You don’t relate ADM to having the No. 1 brand on Amazon selling bioactives, but we do have that.”
For ADM, probiotics (only one example of what is produced by these businesses) offers synergies for ADM since the markets are large both for humans and for animals, Mr. Luciano said. He said the growth potential is extraordinary, noting that on the human side, vitamins and supplements have US household penetration of 80% to 90%. He noted that this penetration has been sustained even though doctors frequently tell patients supplements may not be helpful.
“In probiotics that are 100% certified with clinical trials,” he said. “The penetration in homes is about 10% to 15%. So the headspace that people become more familiar with that is spectacular.”
ADM is devoting considerable resources to tap into this potential, he said. He cited a recently inaugurated $30 million production facility in Valencia, home of Biopolis, as an example of the company’s commitment to the category.
“I never expanded like this,” he said. “I have 35 years in business. We expanded capacity by a factor of five. I never expanded capacity by a factor of five on anything in my life, but that’s how much growth we’re having.”
More broadly, Mr. Luciano said ADM’s Nutrition business is “halfway (toward) being built.”
“We need to continue to do that,” he said. “There is huge opportunity in health and wellness and all what I mentioned before about microbiome. We are a very successful human nutrition company, but only in North America and Europe. We’re still very underrepresented in the developing world.”