November 8, 2018 / 5:25 PM / 9 days ago

French grain group Soufflet plans West Africa office

PARIS, Nov 8 (Reuters) - France’s Soufflet, one of Europe’s biggest grain handlers, plans to open an office in West Africa to boost trade with a region increasingly turning to Russia for wheat.

The outlet, which will probably be located in Ivory Coast, will include a testing laboratory and training centre for millers, Jean-Michel Soufflet, chief executive of the family-owned firm, told reporters on Thursday.

“We don’t want to just do wheat import trading in Africa but also offer technical support to our miller customers,” he said, without giving a timeline for the new office.

West Africa is a key export market for French wheat. However, countries in the region have stepped up imports from countries like Russia that ship grain via the Black Sea, and that trend has accelerated since a poor French harvest in 2016 and a record Russian crop last year.

Soufflet will use a new port facility at La Rochelle on France’s Atlantic coast, which opened this year, to help meet African millers’ specifications through improved sorting of grain.

Soufflet marketed a total of 7.7 million tonnes of cereals in its 2017/18 year to June 30, with about two-thirds sourced in France and the rest mostly procured in Romania and Ukraine, the company said.

However, the group does not want to market more than 9 million tonnes per year as volumes above that level would be too onerous for its trading division, Jean-Michel Soufflet said.

The group reported sales of 4.5 billion euros ($5 billion) for 2017/18, up slightly from 4.4 billion the previous year.

Soufflet also plans to expand its presence in Africa with a factory in Ethiopia to produce beer ingredient malt from barley crops.

It has said the plant would have an initial capacity of 60,000 tonnes a year, due to start production in 2020, but Jean-Michel Soufflet said capacity could be doubled if the Ethiopian beer industry continues to expand rapidly.

Fellow French grain group Axereal also plans to build a malt processing factory in Ethiopia. ($1 = 0.8754 euros) (Reporting by Valerie Parent, writing by Gus Trompiz, editing by Susan Fenton)

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