| CHICAGO, Sept 8
CHICAGO, Sept 8 Poultry company Perdue Farms
will buy natural meat maker Niman Ranch, which is Chipotle
Mexican Grill's biggest pork supplier and a brand name
on U.S. restaurant menus, the two companies said on Tuesday.
Privately held Perdue expects to "soon" close a deal to buy
Natural Food Holdings, which owns the Niman Ranch brand, from
private equity firm LNK Partners, according to a statement.
Terms were not disclosed.
The deal marks the latest move by a big food company seeking
to expand its presence in the fast-growing U.S. natural foods
market. It risks displeasing some consumers, who are attracted
to Niman Ranch's reputation for working with independent farmers
and raising animals without antibiotics.
Niman Ranch plans to continue producing animals in the same
way after the deal closes, said Jeff Tripician, chief marketing
officer. There is more opportunity for Niman Ranch to grow with
Perdue than with LNK, he added.
The deal "will allow us to produce more pork of our
quality," Tripician said. "Whether that goes to Chipotle or
Whole Foods or Sprouts or Vitamin Cottage or the great
restaurants, that's kind of an internal issue of what's the
right way to grow."
This year, Niman Ranch ramped up shipments of pork to
Chipotle when another producer ran afoul of the burrito chain's
animal welfare rules.
A Chipotle spokesman did not immediately respond to requests
for comment about the sale.
Perdue, a supplier to Chick-fil-A restaurants, already
produces antibiotic-free chicken and acquired Coleman Natural
Foods in 2011.
"We understand and respect what Niman Ranch represents,"
Perdue Chairman Jim Perdue said.
Still, Niman Ranch received negative feedback on its
Facebook page less than an hour after posting about the deal.
"Boo. Perdue's reputation for chicken raising is less than
stellar," wrote a Facebook user identified as Brenda Whiting.
Natural goods stores represent one of the fastest growing
areas of food retailing.
Sales at natural and organic retailers rose 9 percent in the
past year, compared with a 1.3 percent gain at supermarket
chains and other conventional retailers, according to data from
Spins, a market research firm that tracks data from store
In May, spam-maker Hormel Foods Corp said it would
buy the natural and organic meat processor Applegate Farms for
Last year, General Mills Inc, the maker of Cheerios
cereal and Betty Crocker cake mixes, said it would acquire
organic food producer Annie's Inc for about $820 million.
(Reporting by Tom Polansek; Editing by Diane Craft)