Vilmorin Clause et Cie History

Address:
BP 1
Chappes
F-63720
France

Telephone: (33) 4 73 63 41 95
Fax: (33) 4 73 63 41 80

Website:
Public Company
Incorporated: 1998 as Vilmorin Clause & Cie.
Employees: 3,029
Sales: EUR 492.2 million ($594.7 million) (2004)
Stock Exchanges: Euronext Paris
Ticker Symbol: RIN
NAIC: 111421 Nursery and Tree Production; 424910 Farm Supplies Merchant Wholesalers

Company Perspectives:

Cultivating the taste of life. With its own vast international network and a portfolio of prestigious brands, Vilmorin Clause & Cie continues to lead the world in botanic creation intended for markets of vegetable production and home garden outdoor leisure. Day after day, Vilmorin Clause & Cie strengthens its positions and pursues its strategy, while respecting an ethical vision of its development. Cultivating the taste of life is the expression of a commitment to a philosophy that emphasizes quality with respect for all women and men and the environment they live in.

Key Dates:

1743:
Madame Claude Geoffrey and husband, Pierre d'Andrieux, then the chief seed supplier and botanist for King Louis XV, open a plant and seed boutique in Paris.
1775:
Philippe de Vilmorin the joins business, which becomes Vimorin-Andrieux.
1856:
Louis de Vilmorin publishes "Note on the Creation of a New Race of Beetroot and Considerations on Heredity in Plants," establishing the theoretical groundwork for the modern seed-breeding industry.
1975:
Limagrain acquires Vilmorin-Andrieux.
1979:
Limagrain acquires the vegetable seed group Texier.
1981:
Limagrain acquires Ferry-Morse in the United States.
1986:
Vilmorin-Andrieux changes its name to Vilmorin SA.
1989:
Limagrain establishes Oxadis.
1990:
Limagrain acquires 80 percent of Germany's Flora-Frey, then sets up a holding company, Ceres, for its garden seeds operations.
1992:
Ceres becomes Vilmorin & Cie.
1993:
Vilmorin goes public on the Paris Stock Exchange and acquires Suttons (U.K.) and 25 percent of Australia's Triagro.
1995:
Flora-Frey Austria is established.
1997:
The company purchases Clause Semense, Clause Jardin, and Harris-Moran Seed Company from Rhone Poulenc as well as Nickerson Zwaan (Netherlands) and forms the Henderson Seeds Joint Venture Trust in Australia.
1998:
The company forms a strategic alliance with Israel's Hazera and acquires a 12.6 percent stake in the firm.
2000:
Kyowa Seeds (Japan) is acquired.
2001:
The company acquires a stake in Keygene (Netherlands).
2003:
The company boosts its share in Hazera to 55 percent, making it the world leader in the tomato seeds segment.
2004:
Vilmorin acquires Germany's Sperling GmbH and establishes Marco Polo Seeds Thailand as a spearhead for future Southeast Asia expansion.

Company History:

Vilmorin Clause & Cie is the world's leading supplier of seeds for the professional gardener and the consumer home garden markets. Based in France, and majority held by agro-industrial cooperative Groupe Limagrain, Vilmorin has developed a strong international presence built around a network of subsidiaries, including Ferry-Morse and Harris Moran in the United States; U.K. leader Suttons Seeds; Nickerson Zwaan in the Netherlands and Germany; a majority stake in Israel's Hazera Genetics, world leader in tomato seeds; Flora Frey and, since 2004, Sperling in Germany; Kyowa Seeds ni Japan, as well as Vilmorin, Oxadis and Clause Tézier in France. These companies oversee a stable of brands, including Vilmorin, Henderson Seeds, Clause, HM, Top Green, Kyowa, Flora-Frey, Suttons, Sperli, and Ferry-Morse. Over two-thirds of the group's sales come from outside of France. Of this amount, Europe, excluding France, represents 48 percent; the Americas add 30 percent; and the Asian Pacific region adds 10 percent. Vilmorin operates nearly 40 production site globally, supported by 46 research laboratories throughout its zones of operation. Eighty percent of the group's sales, which topped EUR 492 million, derives from the sale of seeds, including vegetable, flower, and lawn seeds for the consumer market and vegetable seeds for the professional market. The company also distributes related gardening items, as well as pet foods. Listed on the Euronext Paris Stock Exchange, Vilmorin Clause & Cie has been part of Groupe Limagrain since 1975. That company also remains Vilmorin's majority shareholder, with more than 51 percent of its stock.

From 18th Century Origins through the 1980s

Vilmorin's connection to the world of botany and the modern seeds industry stretches back to the mid-18th century. In 1743, Madame Claude Geoffrey, known as the "maitresse grainetière" in Paris, opened a boutique for plants and seeds on the city's Quai de la Mégisserie with her husband, Pierre d'Andrieux, then the chief seed supplier and botanist for King Louis XV.

Geoffrey and Andrieux's daughter later married Philippe Victoire de Vilmorin, who joined the business in 1775. The boutique added Vilmorin's name, becoming Vilmorin-Andrieux. The company was to continue operating under this name for more than 200 years. De Vilmorin recognized the need for a means of communicating and describing the variety of seeds available to horticulturists, farmers, and others, and collaborated with a natural history specialists to produce the first seed catalog.

The Vilmorin name gained international stature in the 19th century through the efforts of Louis de Vilmorin. Born in 1816, the grandson of Philippe de Vilmorin spent his professional life as a biologist and chemist, with a focus on the breeding and cultivation of plants. Louis de Vilmorin began developing a theory of heredity in plants and recognized that it was possible to select certain characteristics of a plant and transmit them to successive generations in order to develop a new variety of that plant. In 1856, de Vilmorin published his "Note on the Creation of a New Race of Beetroot and Considerations on Heredity in Plants," establishing the theoretical groundwork for the modern seed-breeding industry.

Botany remained at the center of the de Vilmorin family's occupations through succeeding generations. The family played an important role in a number of theoretical and technical advances such as developing the principles of genealogical breeding programs, improving seed quality through cross-breeding initiatives, and creating disease-resistant and hybrid varieties of plants.

In 1972, Vilmorin-Andrieux was bought up by René Hodée, a farmer from the Anjou region. Hodée moved the company to La Ménitré. Three years later, Hodée sold Vilmorin-Andrieux to Limagrain. Based in the Limagne plains of the Auvergne region, Limagrain had been founded in 1942 as a cooperative specialized in producing and selling seeds. Limagrain formally adopted its name in 1965 and developed a specialty focus on developing corn seeds and varieties. By 1970, the cooperative had succeeded in developing its corn LG 11, which quickly became the top-selling corn seed variety of the period and laid the foundation for the Limagrain's growth into a major agro-industrial group.

The purchase of Vilmorin-Andrieux represented an important extension of Limagrain's operations into the markets for flowers, ornamental plants, and fruits and vegetables seeds. Limagrain made two more major acquisitions into the 1980s. In 1979, the group acquired France's Tézier, a specialist in seeds for the professional gardening sector. The acquisition of Tézier already helped establish Limagrain as one of the world's top sources for seeds for both the professional and consumer markets.

In 1981, Limagrain turned to the United States, buying Ferry-Morse Co. That company was the result of the 1930 merger of the D.M. Ferry Co., founded in 1856, and the C.C. Morse and Co., founded in 1874. Over the following decades, Ferry-Morse grew into a major supplier to the North American home garden seed market.

Forming a Garden Seeds Specialist in the 1990s and Beyond

At the end of the 1980s, Limagrain began taking steps to restructure its garden seeds business for both the professional and consumer markets. In 1989, the company formed an umbrella structure for its consumer vegetable seeds operations, called Oxadis. This subsidiary became the marketing and distribution wing for the group's Vilmorin and Tézier seed brands. Oxadis also handled the group's pet foods and supplies operations, which was seen as a natural extension to the seeds business because the company's Home Garden customers tended to own pets.

In 1990, Limagrain acquired 80 percent of Germany's Flora-Frey, the leader in that market. That purchase encouraged Limagrain to create a dedicated subsidiary to include all of its vegetable and flower seeds operations. Also in 1990, the cooperative created a new holding structure, Ceres, which took over Vilmorin S.A. (the company's name since 1986) as well as Tézier, Oxadis, Flor-Frey, and Ferry-Morse. In 1992, however, Limagrain renamed its gardening seeds subsidiary as Vilmorin & Cie.

Vilmorin & Cie acquired the other members of the former Ceres, becoming the holding company for Limagrain's gardening seeds operations. In 1992, Vilmorin & Cie listed its shares on the Paris Stock Exchange. Limagrain nonetheless retained majority control of the company and into the mid-2000s continued to hold more than 50 percent of the company.

The public offering enabled Vilmorin to begin an expansion drive that continued throughout the 1990s. Acquisitions accounted for a major part of the group's growth during the period, starting with the purchase of a 25 percent stake in Australia's Triagro and the acquisition of the leading garden seeds group in the United Kingdom, Suttons. Suttons own history dated back to its founding in Reading in 1806 by John Sutton. The company established its own laboratory as early as 1840, eighty years before British law required seeds testing.

In 1995, Vilmorin stepped up its stake in Flora-Frey, to 90 percent, then opened a subsidiary of that company in Austria. The following year, Vilmorin made two more significant acquisitions: Clause, based in France, and Harris Moran Seeds Inc., of the United States. The Clause brand specialized in providing seeds for the professional gardeners circuit. In 1990, Clause was purchased by Rhone Poulence, which also bought the Harris Moran, based in the United States, that year. The two companies were operated independently of each other. Following their acquisition by Limagrain, Clause was merged with Tézier, forming Clause Tézier, while Ferry-Morse was merged into Harris Moran, becoming a subsidiary of the larger company. Following the Clause acquisition, Vilmorin changed its name, becoming Vilmorin Clause & Cie. It then transferred Clause's home garden operations into Oxadis.

Vilmorin continued its expansion into the end of the decade. The company moved into the Benelux region with the purchase of Nickerson Zwaan, founded in 1976 in the Netherlands. Nickerson Zwaan then took over Clause's Germany business in 1998. That year, also, the group established a Polish subsidiary for Flora-Frey. In another move, Vilmorin merged its holding in Triagro into a new joint venture, called the Henderson Seeds Joint Venture Trust. Vilmorin had also been building up a presence in Japan, notably through a stake in Mikado. By 1997, Vilmorin's share in that company had risen to 20 percent.

Vilmorin's presence in Japan took a step up in 2000 with the purchase of that country's Kyowa Seeds. The following year, Vilmorin returned to the Netherlands, acquiring a 20 percent share of Bio Seeds, the holding company for biotechnology and plant genomics specialist Keygene. That purchase was complemented in 2002 by the acquisition of another Dutch company, Van den Berg.

Into the mid-2000s, Vilmorin continued to seek expansion opportunities, with a special focus on new technologies and markets. In 1998, for example, the company launched a strategic partnership with Israel's Hazera, one of the world's leading producers of tomato seeds, founded in 1939. As part of their alliance, Vilmorin acquired 12.6 percent of Hazera. The partnership resulted in a research agreement with the American firm of Agrinomics in 2000 and paved the way for a closer relationship between the two companies. In July 2003, Vilmorin boosted its share of Hazera to 55 percent. The purchase also gave Vilmorin control of Hazera's subsidiaries in Spain, China, and the United States.

Vilmorin's expansion drive continued into 2004. In that year, the company added Carl Sperling & Co. Founded in Hamburg in 1788, the Sperling company was one of the oldest of its kind in Germany and the largest home garden firm in Europe. Sperling brought Vilmorin its specialty in vegetable seeds and its strong Sperli brand.

By the end of 2004, Vilmorin had transformed itself into a truly international company. Nearly 70 percent of the group's sales, which topped EUR 492 million that year, were generated outside of France. While Europe and North America continued to account for the vast majority of the company's foreign sales, Vilmorin had begun to make headway in its new frontier: the Asian markets. In 2004, the company established a new subsidiary, Marco Polo Seed Thailand, as a spearhead for its future expansion in the region. Vilmorin Clause & Cie had planted the seeds for its future growth.

Principal Subsidiaries: American Bio Corporation Inc. (USA); Clause Tezier; Flora Frey GmbH (Germany); Harris Moran Seeds Inc. (USA); Hazera Genetics Ltd. (55%, Israel); Henderson Seeds JV (50.65%, Australia); Kyowa Seeds (Japan); Marco Polo Seed Thailand; Nickerson Zwaan BV (Netherlands); Nickerson Zwaan GmbH (Germany); Nickerson Zwaan India; Nickerson Zwaan Ltd. (U.K.); Oxadis; Sperling GmbH (Germany); Suttons (U.K.); Top Green; Vilmorin.

Principal Competitors: Syngenta International AG; Sapporo Holdings Ltd.; VBA; Groupe Euralis; Samhall AB; Advanta B.V.; Seminis Inc.; Sakata Seed Corp.; Kaneko Seeds Company Ltd.

Further Reading:

  • Barnier, Benjamin, "Vilmorin Clause devient le numero un mondial des semences de tomates," Monde, July 15, 2003.
  • Goldberg, Nir, "Vilmorin Mulls Expanding Investment in Hazera," Israel Business Arena, November 24, 2002.
  • Lorelle, Veronique, "Limagrain, le cooperative auvergnate rivale de Monsanto," Monde, August 25, 2001.
  • "Vilmorin Acquires 20% Stake in Dutch Bio Seeds Group," European Report, July 18, 2001.
  • "Vilmorin Clause affiche une meilleure sante," Echos, October 14, 2002.

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 70. St. James Press, 2005.