Cooperatives Wilco and Hazelnut Growers of Oregon (HGO) Board of Directors voted to merge this morning during a special meeting at the Salem Convention Center. Each cooperatives respective members passed the vote with 99% of HGO and 79% of Wilco members in favor of the merger. This was after each company’s Board of Directors unanimously agreed to put the merger before members for the vote.
“This is good news for the future of HGO and the hazelnut industry as a whole. Wilco’s financial, administrative and Agronomy Center strengths should allow HGO to better serve the membership,” said Jeff Fox, the CEO of HGO and future Vice President of HGO for Wilco.
The merger makes HGO the fourth business unit for Wilco; Farm Stores, Agronomy Centers and Fuel Services make up the other three and combine to make Wilco one of the largest farmer-owned agricultural cooperatives in the Northwest.
“Wilco’s historical success and ability to provide value to members is partially due to a diversity of business units. A merger with HGO is an opportunity to add a member service that compliments Wilco’s existing business units,” said Doug Hoffman CEO of Wilco.
Wilco plans to combine current strengths with HGO to help develop a value-added marketing service for hazelnut growers. “If you’ve driven around the valley you’ve seen thousands of acres planted in new hazelnut trees. We’re pleased that Wilco has an opportunity to add more value to members as these trees come into production,” says Hoffman.
Several years back, Wilco’s Board of Directors identified HGO has a potential good fit for a merger. However, it was Jeff Fox and HGO who reached out and called Doug nearly a year ago to bring up the idea of a merger. Since then, there have been countless conversations, financial and risk analysis and studies of the possible synergies if the two farmer-owned cooperatives merged.
The cooperative merger of HGO into Wilco provides the financial stability to build a new processing plant without slowing down the growth and investment in Wilco’s existing business units. Wilco also has administrative teams in areas like IT, Marketing, HR and Transportation that will benefit HGO operations and services.
“The eventual closure of our existing plant and addition of a new operating plant will generate significant efficiency and productivity gains that will ultimately result in lower operating costs with industry leading food safety,” says Fox.
HGO will merge into Wilco on August 1st and the two, nine-member Board of Directors will join to create one 17-member Board. There are many growers who are members of both cooperatives, including a shared Board member. In the future, the natural voting cycles will reduce the Board down to 12 members; two members from each of six districts.
“We recognize there is a lot of work ahead of us, but we’re excited to add a Marketing business unit to support the traditional Supply business Wilco is known for. The hazelnut industry is growing fast and we’re pleased to add this member service on August 1,” says Hoffman.