Cargill seeks acquisitions to enter $400 billion fish market

The world’s largest agricultural commodities trader is scouting for deals to access the $400 billion global fish market.

Cargill Inc., which already makes fish feed, now wants to produce and process seafood products, Chief Executive Officer Dave MacLennan said in an interview. The Minneapolis-based firm, which splashed out $1.5 billion in 2015 to buy Norwegian salmon-feed maker EWOS AS, is now in search of new deals.

“We have an active game board of opportunities that are at various stages of conversation,” he said. “We want to further integrate in the seafood supply chain and we don’t own anything yet, but we are scouting for opportunities.”

Fish consumption is growing at a faster pace than any other protein including beef, pork and poultry, driven by an expanding and increasingly prosperous global population that recognizes the health benefits of eating seafood. More than half of the fish consumed these days comes from aquaculture. In 2018, the global fish market at the first point of sale was worth $401 billion, with $250 billion coming from farmed output, according to the United Nations.

Cargill, already one of the largest providers of feed to the seafood industry, didn’t provide details on how close it is to a potential deal. The company has 38 aquaculture feed facilities in 20 countries and is focused on supplying feed to the salmon industry in Norway, Chile, Scotland and North America, as well as tilapia and shrimp producers in places like China, Thailand and Vietnam.

Peak Meat

While plant-based protein has been grabbing headlines, the world hasn’t yet reached peak meat, according to Cargill, the U.S.’s third-largest beef producer. North American beef demand remains “very strong” even as the pandemic has shuttered restaurants, while emerging markets continue to eat more meat, MacLennan said in a video interview last week.

“I think people are going to continue to consume animal protein,” he said. “We believe they’re going to consume more fish over time. We’re making investments in fish feed and in fish processing. That is a key part of our future strategy.”

Cargill is expanding its health and food technologies business, investing in things like microbiotics, macrobiotics and probiotics. The company, along with investment firm Manna Tree, led a $55 million funding round for Evolve BioSystems, according to a Monday statement from the California-based startup. The financial backing will be used to help bring to market a probiotic that improves infant gut health.

Cargill is also targeting the bio-industrials sector with petroleum-replacement products made from oilseeds. MacLennan added that the company is also seeking a bigger presence in Asia.

“Fish and seafood, bio-industrials, health and food technologies are three of the ‘what’s hot’ areas for us,” he said. “Asia is a passion. Obviously, it’s not a product per se, but it’s a region where we’d like to be more represented.”