Alliance One’s stock smokin’ on cannabis plans
By Taylor Wanbaugh
Alliance One International, a leaf tobacco merchant dating back to the early 20th century, is hitting a high with new investments in the e-liquid, industrial hemp and cannabis markets. After announcing its “One Tomorrow” expansion plan in early February, the Morrisville-based company’s stock price jumped almost 70% to about $22, reflecting investor enthusiasm for the growth potential of those sectors.
In January, Alliance One’s subsidiary, Canadian Cultivated Products, acquired a 75% stake in Canada’s Island Garden, one of 35 companies fully licensed to produce and sell medicinal cannabis in that country. The subsidiary also acquired an 80% stake in Goldleaf Pharm, a medical-marijuana license applicant now building a 20,000-square-foot indoor growing site in Canada.
Those deals followed acquisitions last year of 40% stakes in separate companies that grow industrial hemp, used to create an oil to help alleviate certain medical issues, and create e-liquids that provide more than 1,300 flavors for vaping with electronic cigarettes.
Alliance One formed in 2005 after a merger between Danville, Va.-based Dimon and Wilson-based Standard Commercial, which dominated North Carolina’s tobacco-processing industry over the last century. Its basic business involves buying, treating and shipping leaf tobacco to manufacturers in more than 90 countries. With tobacco use declining in much of the world, annual revenue has fallen in recent years to about $1.7 billion, down from a peak of $2.4 billion in 2014. It has reported losses in three of the last four years, and the share price has declined by almost 50% over the last five years, even after the recent spike.
The new product lines promise higher profit margins than Alliance One’s core business, CEO Pieter Sikkel said in a February press release. Revenue is expected to reach as much as $2 billion this year.
There’s big potential in marijuana, especially in the U.S. market. Nine states and D.C. now allow recreational marijuana use and 30 allow medical use. Other states are expected to legalize the use of pot over the next few years. Legal cannabis sales totaled almost $9 billion last year, which could more than double to $21 billion in 2021, according to a January study cited by the CNN Money website.
Alliance One isn’t alone among big U.S. companies in claiming a stake in cannabis. Last year, beer and wine giant Constellation Brands acquired 10% of Canopy Growth, a Canadian medical-marijuana producer that trades under the ticker WEED on the Toronto Stock Exchange.
ON A ROLL
RiceWrap Foods, a manufacturer specializing in sushi rice, will create 305 new jobs and invest $9.9 million in a Granville County production facility. New jobs will include production operators, logistics and sales personnel, and managers. Salaries for the new positions will average $40,005, slightly higher than Granville County’s average of $38,857.
The new location in Butner is expected to expand the state economy by $514 million. The company could receive state grants of as much as $1.9 million if goals are met.
RiceWrap is run by father-son duo Richard and Kyle Cronk, who co-founded the Raleigh-based company. The startup has a patent-pending method of producing sushi rice, which involves freezing rice sheets without losing flavor or texture, making them ready to use upon thawing. San Diego-based Bumble Bee Seafoods, best known for its tuna brand, has made a strategic investment in the company. RiceWrap already has clients including Whole Foods Market and Lunds & Byerlys, a Minneapolis-based supermarket chain. Other clients include hotels, universities and caterers.
MORRISVILLE — Liquidia Technologies raised $25.5 million from seven investors, part of a goal to reach $53.3 million, according to a securities filing. The nanotechnology company is led by CEO Neal Fowler.
RALEIGH — Slingshot Coffee will sell its products in 300 Publix grocery stores across six Southern states. The 6-year-old company already sells its bottled cold-brew coffee in Target, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods Market.
RALEIGH — Wake Technical Community College President Stephen Scott will retire in August. Scott has been at Wake Tech since 2003. In a career spanning more than four decades, he received numerous honors, including the Bellwether Award from the Community College Futures Assembly in 2014 for a Wake Tech improvement initiative, Applied Benchmarking.
CHAPEL HILL — TrueBridge Capital Partners, a venture-capital investment firm, raised $450 million, exceeding its previous fund of $400 million. The organization, which manages more than $2.2 billion in assets, is headed by co-founders Edwin Poston and Mel Williams.
DURHAM — FoodLogiQ, a software-development company specializing in food safety and supply-chain management, raised $8 million in its third round of funding. In September, the company raised $4.25 million in a financing led by Canada-based Renewal Funds.
DURHAM — Aerie Pharmaceuticals, a biotechnology company that develops treatments for eye diseases, has moved its headquarters to Durham. Aerie has additional U.S. locations in Irvine, Calif., and Bedminster, N.J.