The Food Contract Lab Business Approaches 50
By Tom Weschler
This blog post, discussing the importance of food contract labs (FCLs) to the food safety testing market, looks at the evolution of the FCL market over the last 50 years.
FCLs were started by entrepreneurial scientists beginning in the late 1960s. The early FCL entrepreneurs often had areas of specialization and set up independent laboratories to provide food company clients with services and analyses in those areas (mainly microbiology).
Over time, some of these labs grew into regional, and even national, networks of labs. Deibel and Silliker Labs are prime examples of FCLs that followed this path in the 1970s and ‘80s, and into the early ‘90s.
As 2000 approached, the FCL industry was undergoing major changes:
• With financial support from their new owner, Merieux Alliance, Silliker undertook an aggressive, international growth-by-acquisition initiative.
• IEH Laboratories began its extensive growth, principally through acquisitions of independent U.S. labs.
• With its public listing in 1997, Eurofins embarked on an impressive growth spurt, also fueled mainly by acquisitions, that now totals 190 labs.
• SGS began to expand into the food contract lab space, becoming a major player in the field.
TIC Companies Enter the Food Contract Lab Market
It is also worth mentioning that over the last 10 years, more and more “testing, inspection, certification” (TIC) companies are entering the FCL market. What was originally a business based on food safety expertise is evolving into one more tightly tied to the broader testing, inspection, and certification market.
The global TIC industry is huge, with revenues of more than $120 billion in 2010. TIC companies started over 300 years ago to provide common measurements for shipping and other commercial activities. Today the TIC industry is growing worldwide, but particularly in the emerging economies of Asia and South America, spurred by a combination of regulatory and economic factors. One key driver is increased global trade and a resulting consumer demand for improved food quality and safety. As a result, leading food manufacturers are requiring third party inspections and certifications of products and services.
Like the FCL market, the TIC market also is consolidating, and over the past 5 years there have been significant and sizable acquisitions. The 10 leading TIC companies represent only 37 percent of the global market, but all are billion-dollar companies with tens of thousands of employees and more than 1,000 locations globally. In addition, all of these companies occupy market-leading positions in both emerging and developed economies. Most of the top 10 companies provide testing, inspection, verification, audit, accreditation and consulting services, and attempt to manage global supply chains and reduce operational, product and market risks to clients. In other words, these TIC companies have strong existing relationships with all the global food companies.
These strong, multi-faceted relationships are powerful springboards for the TIC companies in the food contract lab market—and NOT something that the traditional FCL companies have to offer. Thus TIC companies have some unique advantages over other FCLs (e.g., bundled pricing and multiple international contact points), even the more global traditional FCLs. As of now, at least four of the top 10 TIC companies are in the FCL business, and two of them (SGS and Eurofins) are among the top 3 global FCL companies based on 2013 revenue estimates.
It is hard to forecast what’s next for the food contract lab market. Given current trends and drivers, the market clearly will continue to grow and take share. Not as clear is which companies will be the dominant FCL companies 5 years from now.
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