Oghma Partners believes that the key issues that impacted M&A in 2022 dragged over into the start of 2023 with inflationary cost pressures, the cost of living crisis and the increased cost of debt suppressing the higher value deals in the first half of the year. However, deal volume increased compared to 2022, 116 deals for 2023 (an increase of 57%). The firm believes that this increase in activity in part reflected pent-up seller activity and, in addition, the sad bonus of a large numbers of businesses acquired out of administration (10.0%). (Contact Oghma Partners to inquire about receiving a copy of the report.)

UK plant-based companies have particularly struggled in 2023, with three businesses being acquired out of administration. In June, Vegan Food Group (formerly known as VFC) acquired Meatless Farm, in July Vbites acquired Plant and Bean, and in December it was announced Vbites had gone into administration. It hasn’t just been the smaller players struggling, in August Beyond Meat sales had fallen by almost a third over the previous three months, Heck announced in May it was slashing its range of meat-free products from ten to two, Pret a Manger has closed half of its vegetarian and vegan-only outlets, Nestlé axed its Garden Gourmet plant-based vegan brand in the UK and LoveSeitan collapsed in August. The meat-free industry has faced a triple whammy—a cost of living crisis turning consumers away from higher-cost meat-free products, cost inflation and much reduced investor appetite to provide follow-on funding.

Further highlights include:

  • The third tertial of the year “T3” 2023 has seen an increase in the volume of deals (46 transactions) compared to the same period in the prior year (up 91.7%). Deal value has also increased by 5.0% to £1,230.0 million compared to the same period the prior year. 
  • 75% of deals in 2023 had an estimated value of £10.0 million or less, up from 69% of deals in 2022. Both 2022 and 2023 experienced a high volume of low value deals compared to the five-year average between 2017-2021 (57%). 
  • Only 8.0% of transactions were estimated to be above the £50.0 million mark in 2023, falling well below the five-year historic average of 15%. 
  • Overseas buyers were responsible for 23.3% of deal volume in 2023, which is slightly down from 27.4% of deal volume in 2022, and the historic five-year average of 29%. Financial buyers accounted for 19% of the deal volume in 2023, up from 13.7% in 2022 and higher than the five-year average of 17%. 
  • Beverages was the most active category for 2023, with 80% of beverage deals having an estimated value below £10.0 million, with a large number of small beer producers make up the volume of beverage deals. About 25% of deals acquired out of administration were beer producers, following an oversaturated market and an intense period of cost inflation. 
Mark Lynch, partner at Oghma Partners, says, “We suspect that the meat free shake out will continue this year. However, fewer players with greater scale should be able to provide a focused marketing effort to help re-engage the consumer and retailers in due course. The long-term factors that drove excitement in the sector in the first place are unlikely to go away, those businesses and brands that survive this shakeout will emerge the winners over the longer term in our view. The second half of 2023 experienced abating inflationary pressures which led to market opportunities for some of the larger players. Some key notable deals include the acquisition of Finsbury Food Group by DBAY Advisors (EV: £143.4 million), the acquisition of Hotel Chocolat by Mars (EV: £534.0 million), and the acquisition of Fuerst Day Lawson by Archer-Daniels-Midlands (EV: Undisclosed). There is also the reported sale process of Princes moving towards the final stages with Newlat confirming they are ‘in a very advanced stage’ (as reported by the Grocer on the 12thDecember 2023).  Looking into the rest of the year we would be surprised if deal volume changes much. However, we do expect to see a pickup in deal value. Financing terms have stabilised or are easing and valuation expectations have become more modest. The combination of these two aforementioned factors combined with an easing input cost environment should provide a more palatable cocktail for success in 2024.”