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Coming clean: Jim Holdrieth, CEO of Florida Food Products

Florida Food Products provides clean-label solutions for the beverage and nutrition markets, helping customers create products with more natural ingredients. CEO Jim Holdrieth speaks with Acuris Capital Intelligence about the clean-label M&A market and international expansion opportunities.

Interview by Sydney Halleman

Q. You recently acquired Comax Manufacturing—what drew you to the deal?

We’re really excited about the acquisition of Comax. They’re a flavor company, but a large majority of their business is predicated on natural flavors, and they have a very strong position in that space, which is complementary to our tastes business. That business was anchored by an acquisition we did two years ago, of a company called Amelia Bay, which extracts tea, coffee and other botanicals into fully formulated beverage solutions. Comax brings that final component to the whole beverage system. Whereas, historically, we bought a lot of flavors to complement our extracts, today we will be vertically integrated.

We’re really excited about organic growth. It just so happens that Comax was the lead acquisition, but we fully expect to have a decent amount of activity on both sides of our business. I think there’s tremendous opportunity right now in the M&A world.

Q. What is driving that opportunity?

I think COVID-19 impacted the way that some family-owned companies think about the world. They didn’t know a world that was battling a pandemic and how that would affect their business. I’m sure that companies that have been sitting on the sidelines, thinking that maybe one day they would sell are more ambitious now, given the pandemic. Bringing fresh capital to a business that has high potential, especially in the clean-label world, is significant. Within the food ingredients space, there are many family holding companies that still operate out there as well as a good mix from private equity (PE).

Q. PE firm Ardian acquired a majority stake in Florida Food Products last year. How will this partnership fuel your growth?

Ardian has been with us for the past several years as a co-investor. We’ve gotten to know them and feel like they can put fuel in our tank by bringing additional capital for M&A growth, as well as a global perspective on the food ingredients space. We have been focused on North America but, as one of the largest PE firms, they have a global focus and we fully intend to take advantage of that as we look for opportunities for bolt-on acquisitions.

Ardian already has a foothold in Europe. They’ll use their network and see what makes sense for us there. Europe clearly has a clean-label focus—you could argue that they’re ahead of North America in terms of their focus on clean-label ingredients. That will probably be a starting point for us, but it could go outside of Europe as well, in terms of Asia or across the world.

A bit of background: Jim Holdrieth is the CEO of Florida Food Products, a provider of clean-label solutions for the beverage and nutrition markets, with headquarters in Eustis, Florida. Its solutions include replacing synthetic chemicals used in food manufacturing with more natural products, extracting vegetable and fruit extracts for beverages, and extracting functional molecules from vegetables to replace synthetic molecules used in the meat industry.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.