Ardent Mills to buy gluten-free Firebird Artisan Mills

Dive Brief:

  • Ardent Mills plans to acquire all the business assets of Firebird Artisan Mills. The North Dakota-based company is a gluten-free, specialty grain and pulse milling company owned by holding company Agspring. The purchase price was not disclosed.
  • The company said the acquisition will enhance access to gluten-free flours, mixes, blends and specialty grain products; provide supply chain assurance; and add to Ardent Mills’ R&D, technical, food safety and quality assurance teams. The transaction is expected to close by the end of 2021.
  • Ardent Mills has actively used M&A to bolster its product roster and abilities. In March, it bought chickpea producer and packer Hinrichs Trading Company, and acquired Andean Naturals’ quinoa sourcing, cleaning and packaging operations in 2020.

Dive Insight:

Ardent Mills, launched in 2014 as a joint operation between Conagra, Cargill and CHS, has been using M&A and operations changes to transform into a company that serves today’s consumer needs. The Firebird Artisan Mills acquisition would significantly increase Ardent Mills’ slate of gluten-free offerings.

Firebird Artisan Mills, which has a dedicated certified gluten-free facility in Harvey, North Dakota, offers more than 40 different gluten-free flours and blends. According to its website, the company has tougher quality and purity standards for gluten-free products than the USDA. It mills, blends and packages its flours — made from starches, pulses and ancient grains — at one site.

In a written statement announcing the planned acquisition, Ardent Mills CEO Dan Dye said Firebird Artisan Mills has been a “collaborative and well-established partner” since the company’s beginning. The acquisition will broaden the reach of Firebird Artisan Mills’ products, and will enable Ardent Mills to offer more to manufacturers catering to the keto or gluten-free markets.

Gluten-free food has been a lucrative market and is forecast to keep growing. At the end of 2020, Statista estimated the U.S. gluten-free market was worth $1.77 billion. Research and Markets analysts expect its size to more than double between 2018 and 2025.

According to the National Institutes of Health, about 2 million Americans have celiac disease, which is an autoimmune disorder triggered by eating gluten. Beyond Celiac, an advocacy group for the disease, estimates an additional 18 million have unrelated gluten intolerances. When combined with the number of people who avoid gluten because of sensitivities in their households, there is a fairly large consumer base for gluten-free products.

But the appeal of going gluten-free is broader than medical reasons. Studies have shown that many consumers avoid gluten for broader dietary health reasons, even though analyses of these products have shown they often aren’t very healthy, with higher levels of fat and sugar. Research and Markets estimates about 50 million people in the United States are the target audience for gluten-free products.

Firebird Artisan Mills has worked hard during the last few years to capture more of that audience. The company had a major expansion in 2017, nearly tripling its capacity. The company has also been proactive in designing new ingredients to meet manufacturer needs, like nutrient-loaded, gluten-free crisps for granola or protein bars.

This acquisition provides extensive gluten-free capabilities in house at the milling giant, making it more convenient to formulate offerings made without gluten for existing clients.