Granaria Holdings B.V. History

Address:
Postbus 233
Den Haag
NL-2501 CE
The Netherlands

Telephone: (31) 70 312 11 00
Fax: (31) 70 312 11 50

Website:
Private Company
Incorporated: 1912
Employees: 7,500
Sales: EUR 8.4 billion ($8.4 billion) (2002 est.)
NAIC: 424410 General Line Grocery Merchant Wholesalers; 237210 Land Subdivision; 531210 Offices of Real Estate Agents and Brokers; 551112 Offices of Other Holding Companies; 336399 All Other Motor Vehicle Parts Manufacturing; 335912 Dry and Wet Primary Battery Manufacturing

Company Perspectives:

Granaria Holdings today holds interests in several industrial companies, venture capital, corporate recovery and real estate. Granaria is actively pursuing further growth in its investment portfolio.

Key Dates:

1912:
Louis Wyler takes control of a grain trading firm, which moves to Rotterdam and becomes known as Granaria.
1980:
After years of expansion, new leaders begin divesting the company's global trading operations and investing in food processing businesses.
1988:
Granaria buys a fleet of tugboats in Germany and attempts to begin transporting its own grains in the Netherlands' canal system.
1990:
Granaria sells the rest of its trading arm and refocuses itself as a holding company.
1992:
Granaria acquires Sanpareil, a Belgian maker of pâte, but sells this company again the following year.
1997:
Granaria acquires the Klijn nut and snack food brand, which becomes part of Granaria Food Group.
1998:
Granaria acquires the U.S.-based Eagle Picher Industries.
1999:
Granaria merges Granaria Food Group into nuts operations of May-Gruppe, which becomes known as The Nut Company.
2000:
Eagle Picher launches a restructuring in order to become a more diversified technology group.

Company History:

Publicity-shy Granaria Holdings B.V. is a Dutch-owned holding company with substantial real estate investments in the Netherlands, as well as controlling stakes in EaglePicher Holdings in the United States, and in The Nut Company, Europe's leading producer, marketer, and distributor of nuts and related snack foods. Granaria is controlled by the Netherlands' Wyler family, which includes brothers Joel and Daniel Wyler. Founded as a grain trader in the early part of the 20th century, Granaria changed its tack in the early 1990s, redeveloping itself as a hands-on industrial investor. Granaria's interests in the food processing industry led it to form The Nut Company, merging its own Klijn brand of nuts and snacks with those of Ultje and Felix, both controlled by Germany's May-Gruppe, in 1999. The Nut Company now controls much of the European nuts and snack market, with top brands including Klijn in the Netherlands, Jack Benoit in France and Italy, Ultje in Germany and Austria, and Felix, made in Poland for the broader European market. In all, The Nut Company operates production facilities in the Netherlands, Germany, Poland, and France and is directly managed by Daniel Wyler. EaglePicher Holders is the new name for the diversified industrial group Eagle Picher Industries, based in the United States. EaglePicher, part of the Granaria fold since 1998, has been transitioning as a technologies company since the early 2000s, providing a range of products, such as batteries, micro fluid filtration systems, precision machined components, and a variety of other products for the automotive, space, aerospace, nuclear, defense, and other industries. The company also operates in the zinc distribution, pharmaceutical, and semi-conductor markets. Granaria itself owns more than 60 percent of EaglePicher, sharing ownership with the company's management and with financial partner ABN Amro bank. Granaria remains a privately held, family controlled company, with total annual revenues estimated at nearly EUR 8.4 billion ($8 billion) in the early 2000s.

Grain Trader to Investment Vehicle in the 1990s

Louis Wyler started as a grain trader in the early 1900s, exporting grain produced by Dutch farmers to food cooperatives in Germany. By 1912, Wyler had gained control of the trading operation. Wyler transferred the company's headquarters to Rotterdam. Granaria, as the company was called, soon grew into a leading Dutch specialist in grain trading and also developed a significant share of the country's feed import market.

Granaria's growth took off following World War II and the arrival of Wyler's son, Martin. By the late 1970s, The younger Wyler had built Granaria into the clear leader in the Netherlands grain trading market, while also building up a globally operating commodities trading wing as well. In 1980, Wyler stepped back from direction of the company, and sons Joel and Daniel Wyler took over as the company's heads. Martin Wyler retired in 1983.

Joel Wyler, then 31 years old, had worked at a Swiss trading firm and a hotel investment company before joining the company in 1976. He was followed soon after by younger brother Danny. The Wyler brothers began refocusing Granaria from the start, selling off much of its global commodities business in 1980 and turning the company's attention toward investment in the Dutch agricultural sector. Danny Wyler himself left the company during the 1980s in order to continue to head up its former commodities business under its new owners. Meanwhile, through the 1980s, Granaria added a number of operations, such as Spellman's Oliefabrieken BV, which processed oilseeds in its plant in Rotterdam; Silo Gerritsen BV, which operated a network of grain and seed silos in the Netherlands; and Imko Gelria, which emerged as the largest peanut processing operation in Europe.

Danny Wyler rejoined Granaria in 1988. The Wylers then attempted another diversification in the late 1980s that made their name somewhat notorious in the Netherlands. Transport along the Dutch canal system remained a tightly controlled, highly unionized, and restricted market in the 1980s. Yet in 1988, the newly named Dutch minister Nellie Smit-Kroes--a close friend of the Wyler family--gave the Wylers permission to begin transporting their own goods along the country's canal system. Granaria went ahead and purchased a fleet of German tugboats. Yet the company immediately found itself under attack as the canal unions blockaded the canal system in a violent confrontation that required the intervention of the country's military police. Ultimately, Smit-Kroes was forced to rescind the decision to allow competition on the country's canal routes. Granaria then claimed some NLG 63 million in compensation and damages. The company ultimately agreed to a claims settlement worth more than NLG 9 million (approximately $4.5 billion) in 1989.

The canal crisis led Granaria to exit the trading sector altogether in 1990, when it sold its remaining operations in that area to fellow Dutch company Schouten Giessen NV. The Wylers nonetheless retained ownership of the Granaria name, with the company now known as Granaria Beheer, or Holdings.

Two Pronged Industrialist in the 21st Century

Granaria began acquiring a number of industrial operations in the 1990s. At first, the company remained close to the food processing industry and achieved strong growth in its peanuts processing operation. The company attempted to expand beyond nuts into other food categories as well. In 1992, for example, the company took over struggling Belgian pâte producer Sanpareil. Yet Granaria proved unable to turn around that company and in 1993 sold it off again. The Wylers also became involved in another, more controversial investment, when Joel Wyler became a shareholder and director of World Online, headed by another family friend, Nina Brink.

In the meantime, Danny Wyler continued to lead the company's efforts to develop its food processing businesses under the Granaria Food Group umbrella. A more successful investment for Granaria came through its 1997 acquisition of Klijn Noten, the leading brand of nuts, dried fruits, chips and crackers, and related snack products in the Netherlands. That purchase gave Granaria control of Klijn's NLG 90 million ($45 million) in annual sales, boosting the total revenues estimated under Granaria's control to NLG 400 million ($200 million). Combined with Granaria's existing nut processing operations, the company now controlled the number two spot in the European peanuts and nuts market.

Granaria quickly parlayed its Klijn investment into a world-class operation. In October 1999, the company agreed to merge Granaria Food Group with the nut processing business of Germany's May-Gruppe, then the leading nut and peanut processor in Europe, with control of top German and Austrian brand Ultje; French and Italian leader Jack Benoit; as well as the Felix Snack food brand, with sales throughout Europe. The merger created the clear European leader in the sector, with a turnover estimated at more than EUR 400 million ($350 million).

By 2000, the merger had cleared scrutiny from competition authorities, which judged that the competition from globally operating snack foods companies would make it difficult for the merged business to fix prices in Europe. Another factor contributing to the favorable decision was that despite the strength of its brand names, these represented just 20 percent of the merged company's operations, with the bulk of its revenues coming from sales to private label distributors. With the merged process completed, the company took on a new name, becoming The Nut Company. Danny Wyler became directly involved in the company's direction, taking up the position of chairman.

During this period, Joel Wyler had found his own direction within Granaria. In 1998, the company agreed to acquire the U.S.-based Eagle Picher Industries, paying $700 million for the diversified producer of gallium and germanium as well as a variety of products and components for the automotive, aerospace, nuclear, defense, and other industries. As Joel Wyler told The Financial Times in a rare interview: "Granaria wanted to have another core business, another engine for growth, in the US. Eagle-Picher is a leading player in every niche market in which it operates. That's a good basis for growth, and that's what we like so much about the company--in addition to which, it's so diversified, it's a solid base against cyclical influences."

Yet Eagle Picher, which began as a Cincinnati paint company in 1842, had fallen on hard times in the 1990s owing to its exposure to some $2 billion in claims stemming from its earlier involvement in the asbestos industry. Eagle Picher had gone into Chapter 11 reorganization in the early 1990s, emerging from bankruptcy only in 1996. The company's ownership had been transferred to a trust, which handled the investments needed in order to pay off its claims.

Granaria agreed to acquire the company's industrial operations in a three-way deal backed by ABN Amro, which brought in Eagle Picher's management as part owners of the company as well. Nonetheless, Granaria placed itself in control of the company, with Joel Wyler serving as company chairman. The addition of Granaria's nearly $900 million in annual sales, together with the rising sales from The Nut Company, enabled the company's revenues to swell past an estimated EUR 1.5 billion at the beginning of the 2000s.

Eagle Picher began a series of its own acquisitions into the 2000s with the goal of diversifying its operations. Toward this end, the company acquired Carpenter Enterprises Ltd. in 1999. That purchase boosted Eagle Picher's trade with the automotive industry, with a range of precision machined components. In 2000, the company made a new purchase, buying BlueStar Battery Systems Corporation for $4.9 million. That company, which changed its name to Eagle Picher Energy Products Corp., or EPEP, produced lithium-based batteries for the U.S. military.

Granaria then led Eagle Picher on refocusing efforts, selling off a number of operations. In 2000, for example, the company sold off Ross Aluminum Foundries and Michigan Automotive Research Corporation, as well as its Cincinnati Industrial Machinery, Fluid Systems, and Rubber Molding division. In 2001, the company exited its Construction Equipment Division, which was followed in 2002 with the sale of parts of the group's Precision Products division. The company's refocusing continued through 2003, with the sales of parts of the Hillsdale UK Automotive division and parts of the companies germanium-based operations. After transferring its headquarters to Arizona, the company changed its name to EaglePicher Holdings in 2004.

Despite the high-profile nature of its two core holdings, Granaria remained a reclusive and highly private family-owned organization. The Wyler-controlled investment vehicle had successfully transformed itself from a trading house to a diversified industrial group, with extensive real estate and other holdings as well. The company's total assets were estimated at more than EUR 8.4 billion in the early 2000s, while its industrial operations alone approached the EUR 2 billion mark. Under the hands-on leadership of Joel and Daniel Wyler, Granaria readied itself for the future.

Principal Subsidiaries: EaglePicher Holdings Inc.; The Nut Company NV.

Principal Competitors: Johnson Controls Inc.; Compaignie Financiere Alcatel; Hitachi Chemical Company Ltd.; Exide Technologies; Azimut Brabork; Yuasa Corporation; Rayovac Corporation; Beech-Nut Nutrition Corporation; Columbia Empire Farms Inc.; Guy's Snack Foods Inc.; Los Angeles Nut House; Georgia Nut Company.

Further Reading:

  • "Commission Clears Granaria, LTJE and Felix Nut Snack Venture," European Report, March 4, 2000.
  • "Granaria and May-Gruppe Merge," Eurofood, October 7, 1999
  • "Granaria Left Hand Op Amerikaanse Eagle-Picher," Telegraaf, January 6, 1998.
  • "Granaria Pays $700M, Lands Eagle-Picher," American Metal Market, February 27, 1998.
  • Kunnen-Jones, Marianne, "Wyler Honored as International Studies Fellow," University of Cincinatti News, August. 30, 2001.
  • Miller, Joe, "Dutch Firm to Buy Eagle Picher," European Rubber Journal, February 1998, p. 10.
  • Tomkins, Richard, "Eagle Picher Sold for Dollars 743m cash," Financial Times, February 26, 1998, p. 19.
  • Van der Velde, Leo, "Harde noten," Haagsche Courant, November 14, 2000.
  • "Wylers Sell Trading Business to Focus on Europe Operations," Milling & Baking News, March 6, 1990, p. 50.

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 66. St. James Press, 2004.