Media Fortune Fame & Folly

Who’s buying AgriBriefing?

Just two years after it tried and failed to complete an audacious three-way “merger” with Informa’s Agribusiness Intelligence and Kynetec agri research, the UK-based AgriBriefing may now be sold for a price of almost £150m.

It is believed that the farming and food B2B media company’s majority owner, the New York-based Ares Management Corp, is negotiating the sale of the business it had acquired in 2019 for about £100m. Talks have apparently been underway for at least two months.

AgriBriefing was established in 2012 and has grown rapidly in the highly-fragmented agri information business since acquiring the UK weekly Farmers Guardian from UBM. It now employs some 200 people in the UK, Netherlands, France and the US.

In 2019, its £9m EBITDA was 32% up, on revenue of £29m. Its subscriptions revenue from pricing and data has grown by 15% CAGR over the past three years.

The results show how far AgriBriefing has moved from its starting position as an advertising-dependant, 100% UK print-centric company. Some 60% of revenue is now ex-UK (35% from outside Europe) and 60-70% of revenue is subscriptions. EBITDA profit margin is 30%, and the total audience comprises some 500k agribusiness professionals in 200 countries.

In addition to its highly-valued commodity Price Reporting Agencies (PRAs), AgriBriefing’s assets include large exhibitions and conferences (LAMMA, CropTec, Feed Additives and the Global Protein Summit) and information services including Foreign Trade Data and Agrimoney.

The company had been launched in the UK in 2010 as Briefing Media, by three experienced B2B executives: Neil Thackray (ex Reed, UBM), Rory Brown (Metal Bulletin, Incisive) and Rupert Levy (Haymarket, UBM). Brown is now CEO and Levy CFO.

They eventually narrowed down to becoming a food-farming specialist after flirting with the medical and international media markets.

Their strategy delivered, as the 175-year-old Farmers Guardian pushed up revenue by 57% and profit by 27% in its first four years. The success was consolidated by acquisition of the 40-year-old LAMMA machinery show and the launch of CropTec for arable farming. Then came the climb up the value chain with data-rich acquisitions, notably in Europe and the US.

In 2014, AgriBriefing paid some £300k for the Agrimoney investment site which gave its first foothold in the international agribusiness and commodities market, where it claimed 70,000 users in 170 countries. Next came the complementary £13m acquisition of Global Data Systems, the France-based owner of FeedInfo, the pricing platform for global animal feed. In 2017, it plunged into the US market with the £17m acquisition of Urner Barry, the 160-year-old provider of news and prices in poultry, egg, meat, and seafood. That deal alone was said to have added more than 3,000 clients. In February this year, AgriBriefing bought the France-based Tallage, provider of European data on grain, wheat, barley,biofuel and animal feed.

AgriBriefing’s abortive three-way deal in 2019 would have catapulted it into the big time with prospects of an IPO and expansion into Asia. But it all proved too hard: some funders under-valued the UK print assets, Informa became reluctant to sell its £30m division, and Kynetec (then 50% larger than AgriBriefing) was just too expensive. It all ended with Kynetic’s merger with Germany’s Kleffmann Group, and Informa swapping its Agribusiness division for IHS Markit’s TMT interests.

The problems of AgriBriefing’s ‘print discount’ may have been compounded in the latest talks by another UK issue: the pandemic-suspension of the annual LAMMA exhibition which had contributed some £4m of revenue in 2019 and 2020 but which has been postponed in 2021.

The most likely acquirer of AgriBriefing is the £1bn Euromoney whose growing agricultural interests include the AgriCensus and Jacobsen PRAs, and also its Global Grains events business in the US, Europe and Asia. It claims to provide over 1,000 proprietary prices, news and data across bulk grains, oilseeds, vegetable oils and meals, animal fats, hemp, hides and biofuels.

At its half-year results in May, Euromoney CEO Andrew Rashbass highlighted agriculture as “an exciting growth opportunity” for the group with expansion prospects in pricing and financial benchmarks. But Euromoney might prefer to buy only AgriBriefing’s pricing and data businesses (mainly outside the UK) which alone could be valued at £150m (maybe 20 x EBITDA), in line with the values of PRA specialists S&P Global and Argus Media.

One would-be investor speculates from the sidelines that the acquisitive Mark Allen Group (MAG) – which acquired Farmers Weekly from RELX for £12.6m in 2020 – might pay some £10-20m for AgriBriefing’s £12m UK-based publishing and events. It would consolidate the company’s leadership of domestic agriculture. With 2019-20 revenue of £54.6m, EBITDA of £8.4m and net debt currently of just £4m, the privately-owned MAG could just become the catalyst for AgriBriefing’s protracted sale process. Or it could be too late.