Raleigh’s Aseptia sells manufacturing plants, switches strategy

Aseptia, a food processing company headquartered in Raleigh, has sold its two North Carolina manufacturing plants as part of a new strategy that focuses on licensing its technology to others.

Aseptia announced late Monday afternoon that it has sold Wright Foods in Troy and Carolina Dairy in Biscoe to a new subsidiary of AmeriQual Group Holdings, a privately held food processing company based in Evansville, Ind. Financial details weren’t disclosed.

The Wright Foods plant, which opened in 2012, uses patented technology invented by food scientists at N.C. State University to produce packaged foods, such as sauces and soups, that the company touted as being better tasting. That technology isn’t used at the Carolina Dairy plant, which processes yogurt for industry giant Dannon.

Carolina Dairy has about 55 workers while Wright Foods has about 20, well below the more than 150 that plant had two years ago. Those employees are expected to be retained by AmeriQual.

Aseptia CEO David Clark, who joined the company in the fall of 2014, said the Wright Foods plant had staffed up in anticipation of fulfulling the needs of Dole Packaged Foods, a subsidiary of Dole International Holdings that processes fruits and snacks. Although Dole was a Wright Foods customer, the order volumes that Aseptia expected never materialized, Clark said.

Aseptia was awarded a state incentives grant worth $1.5 million if it created 505 jobs within five years at the Wright Plant.

Founded in 2006, privately owned Aseptia has raised a total of $38 million in outside funding. Its investors included Raleigh investment firm Lookout Capital and Durham venture capital firm SJF Ventures.

Merrette Moore, managing partner at Lookout, said he supports the company’s new strategy and was “pleasantly surprised with the terms of the deal.”

“It was not a fire sale, that’s for sure,” he said. “It was a good deal for the company and the shareholders.”

Aseptia, Moore said, is now “essentially a technology company that is going to pursue a licensing and partnering model with larger players in the space, which we think ultimately will be a more profitable business for the company than trying to develop products and manufacture those products itself.”

“It’s hard,” he added, “to develop the infrastructure and get the scale to profitably produce products, even the high-value-add products that the company has been trying to develop.”

Clark said the licensing strategy has great potential.

“We see tremendous opportunities deploying and commercializing this technology around the world,” he said. “The food processing business is a good business.”

Today Aseptia has 10 employees, but Clark added that the company expects to add more, especially in business development.

As part of the sale, AmeriQual will continue to use Aseptia’s technology at the Wright Foods plant.

Clark said he expects that AmeriQual will be able to grow the business. AmeriQual officials couldn’t be reached for comment.

David Ranii: 919-829-4877, @dranii