Ardent Mills to acquire chickpea producer Hinrichs Trading Company


Dive Brief:

  • Ingredient and flour maker Ardent Mills announced plans to purchase chickpea maker and packer Hinrichs Trading Company. The acquisition is part of Ardent’s strategic growth plan to build out its specialty ingredient capabilities while diversifying its existing wheat flour business. The deal is expected to close in April.
  • Hinrichs has been producing chickpea-based ingredients for over 30 years and operates throughout Washington and Montana. Working with Ardent is an opportunity to access new markets, scale quickly, and take advantage of its operational expertise, according to CEO Phil Hinrichs.
  • The deal follows Ardent’s February 2020 acquisition of Andean Naturals’ quinoa sourcing, cleaning, and packaging operation in Yuba City, California, which it folded into its specialty grain and plant-based ingredients unit called The Annex.

Dive Insight:

The plant-based foods trend has spurred interest in new ingredients and chickpeas are at the top of the list thanks in part to their appealing nutrient profile. Ardent cited the trend in its planned purchase of Hinrichs. 

“The plant-based food and beverage market shows no sign of slowing down. In fact, we continue to see significant growth as consumers look to foods that align with their individual values — both personal and planetary,” said Shrene White, general manager of The Annex by Ardent Mills. “Ardent Mills has made proactive investments to meet this demand. This potential venture will enable us to offer diverse chickpea solutions to our customers from day one.”

Analysts predict that the global chickpea market could grow at a CAGR of nearly 4% by the end of 2022 thanks to the growing demand for grain-free food products and plant-based foods. 

Chickpeas, which are naturally gluten free, also offer a manufacturers a way to serve the gluten-free segment, which is showing steady growth and expected to reach $36 billion by 2026, according to Facts and Factors. Chickpeas even made Whole Foods Market’s 2021 list of food trend predictions, with applications including hummus and falafel as well as newer products like chickpea flour and breakfast cereals.

Purchasing Hinrichs gives Ardent an immediate foothold in the rapidly evolving chickpea ingredients space. Hinrich’s geographic footprint also offers an advantage. Chickpeas are primarily grown in just a few locations in the United States, according to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, including Montana (35% of total production), Washington (32%), Idaho (19%), and North Dakota (7%). With operations in two of these states, Hinrich gives Ardent closer access to chickpea production.

Ardent had been making a number of moves even before the Hinrich acquisition to fulfill its strategic growth plan. On top of buying Andean Naturals’ quinoa facility, it also acquired an organic grain elevator in 2019, formed an exclusive partnership with Colorado Quinoa, and invested in a Denver grain mill. Meanwhile, it cut down its wheat flour-milling capacity by closing four plants

Ardent, which was launched as a joint venture between Conagra, Cargill, and CHS in 2014, is one of many ingredients manufacturers that are trying to follow the changing tides. ChickP Protein recently announced a partnership with Solcius Ingredients to start commercial production of its 90% chickpea isolate in February 2021, which is aimed at improving plant-based dairy alternatives, baked goods, and gluten-free foods. 

InnovoPro also recently raised $15 million in a Series B funding to ramp up production of its 70% protein chickpea concentrate. It produces a protein powder called CP-Pro 70 that food manufacturers can use to develop animal-free products. Ingredion is even finding use for chickpeas as a substitute for eggs in dressings and sauces. Its broth emulsifier, Evanesse, is derived from cooked chickpeas.

Meanwhile, chickpeas are making their way into a variety of new food products. Chickpea-based snack maker Hippeas plans to expand into multiple snacking categories thanks to a recent $50 million investment round, while chickpea pasta maker Banza is expanding into the frozen pizza segment with a chickpea crust pie.