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Ranking The World’S Biggest Flour Millers

For the first time, World Grain has ranked and profiled the world’s largest wheat milling groups. The picture is one of increasing consolidation but not yet on a global scale. Four of the top 10 companies have milling operations almost exclusively in China, including Wudeli, the largest by a wide margin. The greatest new capacity addition is happening mostly in China as well. The three U.S. companies making the list are limited to North America, with the exception of ADM’s U.K. subsidiary. Nisshin Seifun has the most even distribution of operations among countries but is wholly absent from major parts of the world. Europe’s largest milling group ranks just 10th globally and accounts for only 4% of the 70 million tonnes of wheat milled annually in the E.U.-27.

The capacity estimates and other information come from company websites, media reports and reliable industry sources, but World Grain cannot fully vouch for its accuracy.

1. Wudeli Flour Group

Headquarters: Daming, Hebei Province, China
Installed capacity: 45,000 tonnes per day

Wudeli Flour Group has more than doubled its production capacity in the last eight years and now ranks No. 1 in installed capacity.
Photo courtesy of Wudeli Flour Group

The world’s biggest wheat milling company is situated in the heart of the North China Plain, the major growing zone in the top wheat-producing and consuming country. Wudeli has 15 milling subsidiaries in six contiguous provinces of northern China. Projects are underway to build four greenfield mills of 3,000 to 5,500 tonnes per day capacity at new locations and to expand capacity at another six sites. All told, the company will add about 35,000 tonnes of new milling capacity to bring its total to 80,000 tonnes per day. Doubters need only to look at the company’s track record. In 2012, daily capacity was 20,000 tonnes, already the largest among Chinese milling companies, but within six years had doubled to 40,000 tonnes. Once the current expansion goal is realized, Wudeli’s domestic market share will climb to about 30%. Wudeli’s mammoth plants operate at about 90% capacity utilization compared to an average 40% utilization for second and third tier mills in China, so the pace of consolidation is bound to continue. The family-owned business only started milling wheat in 1989 and built its first 200-tonne-per-day mill in 1996.The company is managed by the two sons of the founder, Dan Hong, born in 1940, who still frequently reviews company financial reports.

2. Archer Daniels Midland Co.

Headquarters: Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Installed capacity: 27,000 tonnes per day
Countries: United States, Canada, United, Kingdom, Caribbean

ADM Milling in 2018 expanded and modernized its flour mill located in Enid, Oklahoma, U.S.
Photo courtesy of ADM

By market share, Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) occupies the second or third position among milling companies in the United States, Canada and U.K., all mature markets where industry consolidation has largely run its course. In 2019 in Mendota, Illinois, U.S., ADM Milling opened the largest greenfield plant ever built in the United States with 30,000 cwts (1,800 tonnes) daily capacity. Seven mills in Canada process around 4,000 tonnes daily. Another seven in England and Scotland can grind 800,000 tonnes of wheat per year. ADM Milling operates wheat mills in four countries of the Caribbean basin. The largest is in Jamaica. ADM is the only wheat miller in Belize, Barbados and Grenada as well.ADM’s 25% ownership of publicly traded Wilmar International means a large indirect stake in wheat milling in China, which is not counted in the above total.

3. Ardent Mills LLC

Headquarters: Denver, Colorado, U.S.
Installed capacity: 26,000 tonnes per day
Countries: United States, Canada, Puerto Rico

Ardent Mills’ flour mill in Puerto Rico, which was damaged by a hurricane in 2017.
Photo courtesy of Ardent Mills

Ardent’s 31 mills in 21 states account for about half of the flour sold in the U.S. market. Additionally, the company owns three mills in Canada and one in Puerto Rico.The company was formed in May 2014 as a joint venture that merged the milling operations of Cargill, ConAgra and CHS. The companies hold respectively 44%, 44% and 8% equity shares in Ardent. Before approving the transaction, U.S. anti-trust authorities required the divestiture of a number of operations to limit the new company’s market share to 50%. Rationalization of its network continues with the closure of three milling plants in 2019 and another scheduled for the first quarter of 2020, reducing installed capacity by 1,000 tonnes per day. Ardent’s creation was the biggest step in Cargill’s global withdrawal from wheat milling. During the last decade, the process also included the divestiture of flour milling companies in Australia, Argentina and Venezuela, all countries where the world’s largest agribusiness firm was once the major player.

4. Wilmar International Limited

Headquarters: Singapore
Installed capacity: 22,000 tonnes per day
Countries: China, Indonesia, Myanmar

Wilmar is one of Asia’s largest agribusiness company with $44.5 billion in annual sales turnover in 2018 of which China accounted for 56%.Under the name Yihai Flour Company, it started building state-of-the-art wheat mills on greenfield sites in China over 12 years ago, around the time the Chinese government capped Wilmar’s market share in soybean crushing. Yihai Flour operates more than 20,000 tonnes of milling capacity at 18 locations in 12 provinces with a grinding capacity of 6 million tonnes of wheat per year. Compared to those of Wudeli Group, Yihai’s mills are smaller with a wider geographical distribution from Heilongjiang and Liaoning provinces in the northeast to Fujian and Guangdong provinces in the south. It is also present in inland provinces like Yunnan, Sichuan and Shanxi. Yihai’s mills are mostly situated near largest population centers in each province like Shenyang, Harbin and Kunming, as well as in Beijing and Shanghai. Industry sources report Yihai has projects underway for 19,000 tonnes of new capacity based on expansion at 11 existing locations and four greenfield sites. Wilmar operates two mills in Indonesia and has included a mill at its port complex in Myanmar.

5. PT Indofood Sukses Makmur,

Headquarters: Jakarta, Indonesia
Installed capacity: 20,600 tonnes per day

Indofood’s Bogasari Flour Mills operates the world’s largest mill with 11,650 tonnes of daily production capacity.
Photo courtesy of PT Bogasari

Indofood’s Bogasari Flour Mills division boasts the world’s single largest milling site Located in the Port of Jakarta, a number of the site’s 15 milling lines were expanded from 800 to 1,200 tonnes per day in the last two years to raise total daily capacity to 11,650 tonnes, equivalent to 3.5 million tonnes of wheat annually. Bogasari’s second mill in the port of Surabaya, at the eastern end of the densely populated island of Java, also ranks globally among the biggest at 6,150 tonnes per day. Expansion in Cibitung in West Java near Jakarta will raise capacity there to 2,600 tonnes. The country’s 270 million people are expected to continue eating more wheat-based products as incomes rise and diets diversify. Indofood takes 22% of Bogasari’s output, mainly for noodle production at dozens of factories distributed throughout the vast archipelago. After Egypt, Indonesia is the world’s No. 2 wheat importer at 11 million tonnes per year in 2019. Since deregulation of the industry in 1998, the number of milling companies has jumped from five to 28, resulting in a decline of Bogasari’s market share to around 50%.

6. Nisshin Seifun Group

Headquarters: Tokyo, Japan
Installed capacity: 20,000 tonnes per day
Countries: Japan, United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, China

Founded in 1900 as Tatebayashi Flour Milling, Nisshin Seifun Group is Japan’s largest wheat miller and one of its largest food companies. Faced with a declining population and stagnant consumption in its home market, the company increasingly has looked overseas for growth. Its U.S. subsidiary Miller Milling, based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, operates six plants including three in California. Three of these locations were acquired from ConAgra and one from Cargill’s Horizon Milling during the formation of Ardent in 2014, enabling Nisshin to become the fourth largest in the U.S. wheat flour market at around 4,000 tonnes (88,000 cwts) daily capacity. The company recently announced the closure of its 816-tonne-per-day mill in New Prague, Minnesota, U.S. Its first overseas milling venture was Rogers Foods with two mills in British Columbia, Canada, that also partially serve the U.S. market. Its next overseas move was in Thailand, where it built and operates two plants. In early 2019, Nisshin acquired Australia’s market leader Allied Pinnacle Mills – originally a joint venture between GrainCorp and Cargill – from a private equity firm that had acquired it in 2017.The 11 millingsites in Australia combined with the two plants of Champion Flour Milling in New Zealand make Nisshin the largest milling company in Oceania.

7. COFCO Group

Headquarters: Beijing, China
Installed capacity: 13,900 tonnes
Countries: China

As a sprawling, state-owned, “national champion” food conglomerate with 409 billion yuan ($58 billion)in annual revenues, COFCO differs sharply from its flour industry rivals. Domestic wheat milling is just a small part of its total business mix. COFCO’s Hong Kong- listed China Agri Industries Holding Ltd. subsidiary reported 2019 first-half wheat products sales with a value of HK$6.2 billion (U.S.$1.46 billion), ranking it third behind the company’s oilseed crushing (HK$43 billion) and rice milling (HK$9.1 billion) segments. COFCO’s 16 milling sites are in 12 provinces and cities. Average mill size of below 900 tonnes results in part from COFCO’s early history of rescuing failing government mills. Six of its sites are less than 600 tonnes per day.In the last year, COFCO acquired a 1,200-tonne-per-day mill in Tianjin to strengthen its position in the Beijing- Tianjin metropolitan region. In contrast to the organic growth models practiced by Wilmar and Wudeli, COFCO formerly relied on acquisitions but has more recently switched to building large-scale greenfield plants. Sources report that the company has projects to add 7,000 tonnes of capacity at three new locations, including expansion of its footprint by 3,000 tonnes in Henan, the Middle Kingdom’s No. 1 wheat-growing province, where it already has 4,000 tonnes of capacity at four mills. Plants of 2,0000 tonnes per day are also planned for Inner Mongolia province and in Dongguan, Guangzhou province, China’s leading export manufacturing hub.

8. Jinshahe Noodle Group

Headquarters: Xingtai, Hebei Province, China
Installed capacity: 11,000 tonnes
Countries: China

Jinshahe was founded in 1996 with a 15-tonne-perday capacity mill. The private company has steadily expanded its wheat flour milling and pasta operations in parallel and at an accelerating rate. As of 2017, the company’s website claimed daily milling capacity at 11,000 tonnes and noodle capacity at 2,800 tonnes per day. The company operates two giant mills, with 6,000 and 4,000 tonnes daily capacity in the cities of Shahe and Nanhe, respectively. Both are in the south of Hebei, the No. 2 province for wheat production after Henan. The Nanhe plant is undergoing a 50% capacity increase to 6,000 tonnes. Investment already has been made in a 1,500-tonne-per-day wheat mill in Alashankou, Xinjiang, province, directly on the border with Kazakhstan. A regular supply of hard wheat and durum from the Central Asian steppes will enhance Jinshahe’s ability to produce western-style pasta products. Sourcing wheat by rail from thousands of kilometers away is a clear case of mutual benefit arising from China’s Belt and Road initiative. Insiders talk of company ambitions for a trio of 7,200-tonne-per-day mills in Anhui, Shaanxi and Henan provinces that would vault the noodle company to the No. 3 ranking globally.

9. Grain Craft

Headquarters: Chattanooga, Tennessee, U.S.
Installed capacity: 8,200 tonnes

Grain Craft resulted from the amalgamation of three leading independent U.S. milling companies: Cereal Food Processors, Milner Milling and Pendleton Flour Mills in 2014, the same year Ardent Mills was formed. The company operates 14 plants in eight states with coast-to-coast market coverage. At the time of the merger, Cereal Food Processors and the Milner/PFM combination were the nation’s fourth and seventh largest wheat millers.The new entity, now based at Milner’s former headquarters, ranks No. 3 in the hugely consolidated U.S. market. Rationalization of manufacturing, distribution, marketing and administration is a key priority.

10. GoodMills Group GmbH

Headquarters: Vienna, Austria
Installed capacity: 8,000 tonnes

The European Union’s largest milling group has a market share of just 4%. GoodMills Group consists of 25 mills held in seven country-based subsidiaries. Total annual milling capacity is 2.8 million tonnes, with the 1.2 million tonnes at the eight sites of GoodMills Germany GmbH accounting for over 40% of the total. Poland and Hungary, each with four mills, are the second and third ranking subsidiaries by capacity at 530,000 and 300,000 tonnes per year. Austria, where the company is headquartered, has three milling locations. Other countries in the group include Romania (two mills), Bulgaria (one mill) and Czech Republic (two mills).The formation of GoodMills Germany and its acquisition by the Austrian group in 2014 arose directly from harsh penalties for price-fixing imposed on a large number of Germany’s flour milling companies in a verdict first handed down by the competition authorities in 2011 after a long investigation. To pay the stiff fines for their cartelistic behavior, selling out was the only option for a number of the family-owned flour mills.

Special Mention

Companies deserving special mention include East Africa’s Bakhresa Group, Interflour Group in Southeast Asia, and Flour Mills of Nigeria. Their rapid growth could vault them into the top 10 in the near future. The state monopoly Saudi Grains Organization would have placed No. 7 had it not divided its 13 large milling sites among four semi-autonomous companies slated eventually for privatization.

Companies race for rice market supremacy

China produces over 190 million tonnes of paddy rice per year, most of which is traditionally processed at the township level by up to 100,000 mills. It is the largest staple food crop grown and consumed in any country.

Rice colorful packaging

Point of sale displays and colorful packaging are evidence of the intense competition in retail rice marketing in China.

Now urbanization, rising incomes, rural policy changes and unrelenting modernization and corporatization of grain milling are bringing accelerating change to how rice is produced, processed, distributed, marketed and consumed in the Middle Kingdom.

Once largely neglected by the giants of the country’s food industry, in the last few years rice milling has come to be viewed by them as a key driver of medium- and long-term growth.

The two largest agribusiness companies in China – China Oil and Food Corporation (COFCO) and Wilmar International – have engaged in an intensifying race to invest in bigger and more efficient mills in key rice-producing areas. At the same time, they are pouring equal amounts of financial resources into building rice brands with nationwide distribution among the largest retail supermarket chains like Carrefour and Walmart.

Singapore-based Wilmar International entered the rice sector less than three years ago but has already built six new large mills, with several more on the drawing board.

COFCO has responded by investing in new capacity of its own, both in the Northeast and south of the Yangtze, as it promotes a family of national brands. The state-owned company had a traditional role as China’s main exporter and importer when such trade was more heavily regulated and operated rice mills for this limited scope. Now it is
being asked by the highest level of government to act as a national champion in what is still considered to be an economic sector of vital strategic interest.

Rice is only the latest chapter in a rivalry between COFCO and Wilmar that extends back nearly a decade, which is considered a lifetime in the fast-moving world of Chinese business. Wilmar and COFCO already dominate production of edible oil in China. The two companies started out as partners together with U.S.-based Archer Daniels Midland in the huge build up of coastal soybean crushing capacity in China. About eight years ago they began pursuing separate investment strategies in part to comply with
Beijing’s wish for greater competition in the sector. Subsequently, Wilmar bought out ADM and engineered a merger in 2006 with Kuok Oils, Malaysia to create the largest agribusiness company in Asia, with $24 billion in 2009 sales revenues and $1.9 billion in net profits.

Industry sources report that Wilmar has been unofficially restricted from increasing its share of the edible oils industry in China. This has left enormous cash flow to invest in rice milling as well as wheat flour milling, another sector in which Wilmar is also mounting a challenge to COFCO’s traditional leadership. Publicly traded Wilmar already reports over one million tonnes of combined rice and wheat flour sales in 2009. Though a newcomer that has built its own production from scratch, Wilmar has leveraging its huge edible oils distribution network.

Industry structure

One of the new mills built by Wilmar in Heilongjiang has daily capacity of 1,200 tonnes, while the others are 600 tonnes per day, now the standard size for Wilmar’s greenfield sites. COFCO used to operate only relatively small mills, but the competition has forced it to build bigger capacity as well. Its typical new plant is now 800 tonnes per day, according to one mill equipment manufacturer, though for small-grained rice it still puts up 300 tonne-per-day mills.

Corporations with large-scale mills and national distribution of their brands may now account for 20% to 25% of the rice milled in China, according to several sources. There are around 25 such companies.

Industry insiders report that village mills doing just five or 10 tons per day have mostly disappeared in the last five years. The remaining mills, numbering in the tens of thousands, fall within a capacity range of 50 to 200 tonnes per day.

Both Wilmar and COFCO have invest ed heavily in mills in the northeast, because it is a rice surplus area. The rice zone contained within Heilongjiang, Jilin and Liaoning provinces is distinct in a number of ways from the major production areas south of the Yangtze River. Opened up to Han Chinese farmers relatively late in Chinese history during the Qing Dynasty when it was known as Manchuria, farms are larger and more mechanized. The Japonica rice variety grown there is reputed for its flavor and is gaining favor and distribution throughout China.

The northeast is home to another top player in China’s rice industry, a state-owned, diversified agribusiness concern called Beidahuang Group, with headquarters in Harbin, Heilongjiang Province. Its rice subsidiary has rapidly expanded throughout China and now operates mills in five provinces including Guangdong, Shanghai and Jiangsu, with total yearly rice milling capacity of 3 million tonnes.

Also among the top four rice millers in China is Jinjian Rice Company based in Hunan Province in central China, just south of the Yangtze River. It has the most extended geographic coverage, operating mills in Heilongjiang in the far north, Hainan in the far south, and inland in Sichuan Province. Products include rice bran oil and instant rice flour.

About 20 smaller companies with national aspirations make up a second tier in the corporate milling sector.

Rice marketing and consumption

The old rule was that northern Chinese consumed wheat-based foods like noodles and steamed rolls, and southern Chinese ate rice. For centuries, the Middle Kingdom has been the world’s biggest producer of both grains. In rural areas these eating habits may still mostly hold true, but in the country’s burgeoning cities, diets are increasingly varied.

In a supermarket in Beijing’s Chaoyang District

In a supermarket in Beijing’s Chaoyang District

Supermarket shoppers in northern cities may notice that attractively packaged rice occupies more and more shelf space. Sacks of wheat flour are less and less present, as harried urban consumers have little time to prepare wheat-based foods at home, though noodles of all types and frozen steamed rolls and dumplings are gaining space in the same supermarkets.

Urban consumers are demanding higher quality rice and paying a premium for it. Thus, branding strategies have become critical in rice marketing. There are many hundreds
of rice brands sold in China. At least 40 of them have been certified as a “famous China brand” by a national business association.

Wilmar and COFCO have applied their blanket Jinlongyu and Fulinmen brands respectively to their broad range of packaged foods, and COFCO has even named its modern new headquarters office tower in Beijing the Fulinmen Plaza.

Defying trends seen in neighboring countries that have experienced rapid income growth, in China total milled rice consumption has been holding steady at between 115 million and 120 million tonnes per year, or about 90 kilograms (kg) per capita, over the last five years, according to independent data obtained from Beijing-based agricultural consultancy BOABC. South Korea, on the other hand, has seen its per-capita rice consumption drop by over one-third to 70 kg in the last 30 years.

One explanation is that rice is gaining share of stomach against wheat-based foods. In the past 30 years, tens or even hundreds of millions of young workers have migrated from poor inland and northern provinces to work in factories in the booming southern coastal regions before returning home after a few years. Many acquired a taste for rice that has stayed with them.

Urban Chinese families eat out much of the time, and many single people in cities rarely cook for themselves. Restaurants and institutions in northern cities are more likely to serve ricethese days. Vast improvements in road and rail infrastructure have lowered transport costs to these cities from distant rice-growing areas.

Rice production and procurement

To augment rural incomes and ensure sufficient rice production, the Chinese government has repeatedly increased the floor price paid to farmers. For early long-grain Indica rice grown in the south, the 2010 floor price is 1860 yuan ($272) per tonne, and for the short-grain Japonica rice purchased from July to November it is 2,100 yuan ($307) per tonne. This has resulted in a greater share of the crop being purchased by the government authority Sinograin and added to the state reserves. China’s economic stimulus spending measures have included the construction of new rice storage facilities for state reserves.

More state procurement may be helping to speed the consolidation of milling into the hands of large corporations. In order to rotate its stocks, Sinograin sells at auction the rice it has bought from local farm commodity exchanges. The big corporate rice millers with their lower operating costs, deep pockets and sharper pencils are better positioned to outbid their smaller rivals and make cash payments for large quantities sold in this manner.

Since 2004, rice and other grain growers have benefited from direct payments and subsidies for fuel, fertilizer and seed. Also, most agricultural taxes have been eliminated. One USDA report cites an informal survey from one northern region that showed 30% of rice farmers’ profits resulted from these subsidies and payments.

Despite this government support, rice farming remains a subsistence activity for many households. By some estimates, as much 30% of paddy rice may still go to farmers’ own consumption. The households take their rice to local operators for toll milling in the informal non-cash economy.

Average rice yields in China, at 6.5 tonnes per hectare, are among the highest in the world and are still going up, though at less than 1%.

Official data is lacking, but there is strong evidence that low-quality rice, along with wheat, has been replacing expensive maize for use as animal feed in recent years. USDA estimates 11 million tonnes of early-season rice and rancid stocks from government reserves went for this purpose last year, while BOABC’s estimate is 9 million tonnes.

International trade

Thanks to government farm support to meet national food security and rural development policy goals, China’s rice market is well insulated from international influences. Per recent USDA reports, imports are limited to just 300,000 tonnes, almost entirely fragrant Thai rice that is sold to hotels and restaurants and in supermarkets to high-income consumers. Japanese companies have invested in rice mills in northeastern China to improve the quality of Japonica rice milled there. China’s rice exports now consist almost entirely of this variety going to Japan and South Korea, estimated by USDA to amount to 900,000 tonnes in the current year. BOABC’s estimates are higher at 600,000 tonnes of imports and 1.5 million tonnes of exports. Prior to the food price crisis of 2008, China encouraged exports of low-quality Indica rice to Africa through VAT rebates. But this policy was revoked to protect the domestic market from price increases.

World markets are an inconsequential sideshow for China’s rice industry. The main spectacle is the battle for domestic market domination now taking place between national champion COFCO and Asian agribusiness behemoth Wilmar.

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