Four generations of the Sauer family have been at the helm of the C.F. Sauer Co., the Richmond-based company that began by making vanilla extract in Shockoe Bottom in 1887 and grew into a global food manufacturer.
But come late July, the family-owned company, best known for its condiments, spices, seasonings and extracts and brands such as Duke’s Mayonnaise, will have a new owner.
The Charlotte, N.C.-based private equity firm Falfurrias Capital Partners announced Friday that it had signed a definitive agreement to acquire the company’s food business. Falfurrias Capital, which once owned the Bojangles’ chicken and biscuits restaurant chain, was founded by a former chairman and CEO of Bank of America.
Terms of the cash deal were not disclosed. The acquisition needs shareholder approval at the company’s annual meeting on July 15.
Conrad F. Sauer IV, who was named president in 1993 and is the fourth generation of his family to lead the business, will retire as president and CEO. But he will continue to serve on the board of directors of the new company, to be called Sauer Brands Inc.
William W. “Bill” Lovette, a 37-year food industry veteran who left as CEO of the poultry processor Pilgrim’s Pride Corp. in March, has been named interim CEO and executive chairman of C.F. Sauer Co. He also spent 25 years with Tyson Foods in various roles in senior management, including president of its international business unit.
“I am so grateful to all of the people of The C.F. Sauer Co. who have helped write our company’s tremendous success story over the past 132 years, and I look to the future with great optimism,” Conrad Sauer, the great-grandson of the company founder, said in a statement. “We have found the ideal growth partner in Falfurrias Capital Partners, and I look forward to working with Bill and the rest of the team to author the next chapter.”
Business will continue as usual. The company’s 860 employees, including about 165 in the Richmond region, will remain with the new owners.
It is unclear if other members of the Sauer family working at the company — Mark A. Sauer, the executive vice president of sales; Bradford B. Sauer, vice president of Sauer Properties; and R. Tyler Sauer, plant manager at the Richmond spice and extract facility — will remain.
Falfurrias Capital will buy only C.F. Sauer’s food business. That includes a broad line of condiments, spices, seasonings and extracts, including Duke’s Mayonnaise, The Spice Hunter, Sauer’s, Gold Medal and BAMA. The company’s products are sold at supermarkets in the U.S. and in other stores around the globe.
But the family will retain ownership of its significant real estate portfolio owned by Sauer Properties Inc., its development and real estate subsidiary. That business will continue to own and develop The Sauer Center, a mixed-use project near the Fan District where Whole Foods Market plans to open a store next to the company’s headquarters.
The family also will continue to own the company’s headquarters and manufacturing plant complex at 2000 W. Broad St. at Hermitage Road, under the iconic neon sign for its vanilla extract. It has operated there since 1911.
Falfurrias Capital will lease that space. As part of the acquisition, three other manufacturing plants — in Greenville, S.C.; San Luis Obispo, Calif.; and New Century, Kan. — will be part of the sale and be owned by the private equity firm.
Chip Johnson, a principal at Falfurrias Capital Partners who grew up in Wytheville and graduated in 2007 from the University of Virginia, said the private equity firm has spent the past year looking closely at the package foods business to make an investment. It identified consumer packaged goods as a sector offering attractive growth potential.
“C.F. Sauer rose to the top because of the strength of its brand and its long history of operating success,” said Johnson, who will get a seat on the new Sauer Brands board. Ken Walker, a partner at Falfurrias Capital, also will join the board.
“As we dug in, we love the Duke and the spices brands and we gained a strong appreciation for the company’s culture and values that are aligned with ours,” he said. “We think we can get them to the next phase of growth.”
Growing the brands over the next few years will be key to Falfurrias Capital’s strategy, he said.
“We think there are opportunities to improve operationally. We think there are opportunities to invest in technology,” Johnson said. “We think we can be helpful in strategy and where it is going forward.”
Falfurrias Capital approached C.F. Sauer Co. about a year ago about a possible deal, Johnson said. The company hired RBC Capital Markets LLC to provide exclusive financial advisory services.
This is the second business owned by Falfurrias Capital that has connections to the Richmond region.
In 2011, Falfurrias Capital acquired a majority stake in Dorsey, Wright & Associates LLC, a registered investment advisory firm based in Chesterfield County. The Nasdaq stock exchange bought Dorsey in 2015.
Falfurrias Capital was founded in 2006 by Hugh McColl Jr., former chairman and chief executive of Bank of America, and Marc Oken, former chief financial officer of Bank of America.
The private equity firm has experience in the food industry. For instance, it acquired Bojangles’, the Southeast-based quick-service restaurant chain, in 2007 and sold it in 2011. It also has an investment in Charlotte, N.C.-based regional caterer Best Impressions.
Williams Mullen is serving as legal adviser to C.F. Sauer, while McGuireWoods is legal adviser to Falfurrias Capital Partners.