Champ PE Sells United Malt for $655 Million

Champ Private Equity, the Australian affiliate of Castle Harlan, has sold United Malt Holdings to GrainCorp Ltd. (AX: GNC). The deal was valued at US$655 million.

Castle Harlan, Inc., the New York-based private equity firm, and its Australian affiliate, CHAMP Private Equity, announced today that they had completed the sale of United Malt Holdings (UMH), the world’s fourth largest producer of malt for the distilling and brewing industries and a company that has grown more than four-fold since the two firms acquired it three years ago.

Castle Harlan and CHAMP sold the company to GrainCorp Ltd. (GNC:AX), a major bulk-grain handler and trader in Australia that now becomes an international agribusiness with operations in Australia, the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. The purchase price was US$655 million (A$757 million).

The two firms had acquired UMH in September 2006 from Conagra Foods, Inc., a U.S. company, and Tiger Brands of South Africa. The price they paid at the time was not disclosed, but they invested a total of US$90.54 million in equity, approximately 55 percent from Castle Harlan Partners, and 45 percent from CHAMP.

Thus, Castle Harlan said, the total dollar return to the two firms was 4.5 times the equity invested, and the transaction produced an internal rate of return of approximately 80 percent.

David Pittaway, a senior managing director at Castle Harlan and the firm’s lead negotiator on the UMH transaction, said that, “all things considered, it really has been a textbook example of how private equity firms and management can work together to add value to the acquired assets.”

He noted that since the two firms acquired UMH, the company’s earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) had grown from US$27 million to approximately US$114 million, an increase of more than 400 percent.

“This was largely a result of steps we and management had taken,” Pittaway said, “to significantly enhance the value of these properties.”

There were two additional acquisitions, the 40 percent of the U.K. operation that was not part of the original deal, and the purchase of North Country Malt Group, a small distributor of brewing products that strengthened UMH’s leading position with microbrewers, Pittaway said.

“But the key thing we did,” he noted, “was to make fundamental changes in the business model.

“UMH had been regarded as a commodity grain processor, but we transformed it into a specialty processor of malt, producing malt to the exacting specifications of our customers. As a result, UMH became the number 1 or 2 supplier to breweries in quality ratings, and customers were willing to enter into long-term agreements for exactly fulfilling their needs.”

In the United Kingdom, Pittaway said, “we changed our focus from large breweries to distillers of scotch whisky, who now account for more than 50 percent of sales, up from 20 percent just a few years ago.

“And we are expanding our production capacity, with a new malt house that has come on line in Scotland that was built for the needs of the distilling industry and another under construction in Brisbane that will begin operating next year to meet increased demand from Southeast Asia. The company expects to increase its production capacity by 14 percent by early 2011.

“Those are just a few examples of the important steps that were taken to build the value of this enterprise.”

UMH’s headquarters is in Omaha, Nebraska. It comprises four independently operated malting companies: Great Western Malting in the United States, Barrett Burston Malting in Australia, Canada Malting in Canada, and Bairds Malt in the United Kingdom.

Castle Harlan, founded in 1987, invests in controlling interests in the buyout and development of middle-market companies in North America and Europe. Its team of 19 investment professionals has completed 49 acquisitions since its inception with a total value in excess of US$9 billion. Castle Harlan currently manages investment funds with equity commitments of US$2.5 billion. The firm traces its roots to the start of the institutionalized private-equity business in the late 1960s.

Castle Harlan’s current portfolio companies, which employ more than 42,000 people, include Ames True Temper, a leading manufacturer of lawn and garden tools and accessories; Perkins & Marie Callender’s, Inc., which operates and franchises 618 family restaurants in the United States and Canada, and Baker & Taylor, a prominent domestic and international distributor of books and entertainment products to libraries and retailers.

CHAMP Private Equity was formed in 2000 by Castle Harlan, Inc., of New York and Australian Mezzanine Investments Ltd. (AMIL) of Sydney. CHAMP and AMIL constitute Australia’s longest established private equity investor, and funds advised by them have made some 60 investments since 1987 in companies operating in Australia and New Zealand. The combined worldwide funds of CHAMP and Castle Harlan amount to approximately US$5.5 billion.

CHAMP Funds have made investments in a variety of sectors in companies such as Austar Communications, Bradken Limited and Penrice Limited. Current CHAMP Private Equity investments include International Energy Services, Health Care Australia, Manassen Foods, Study Group International, Bluestar Print Group, Golding Contractors, LCR Lindores, Alleasing and Centric Wealth.