Cargill food ingredients

Cargill Inc. Chief Executive Officer David MacLennan says he’s open to major acquisitions as the largest closely held U.S. company looks to tap growing demand for alternative proteins.

The world’s top supplier of ground beef and second-biggest U.S. beef packer plans to expand with so-called value-added products like probiotics and prebiotics, MacLennan said in an interview taped to air next month on Bloomberg Television’s Commodities Edge show.

As U.S. consumers become more health conscious, demand is increasing for alternative forms of protein, such as meat produced from plants or in a lab. As a result, Minneapolis-based Cargill may have to make uncharacteristically large purchases to grow its presence, he said.

“We don’t make big, big acquisitions, but if it’s strategically accretive, it’s something that we think can fit very quickly and it’s in one of our areas that is consistent with our strategy, we’ll be comfortable making those acquisitions,” MacLennan said.

Last year, Cargill bought Diamond V, a company that focuses on improving animal nutrition, performance and food safety. Earlier in 2017, it acquired a stake in Memphis Meats, a startup that produces beef and chicken from animal cells without raising and slaughtering livestock. In 2015, it bought EWOS, a producer of feed for the salmon industry, for about $1.5 billion and in 2011 it purchased animal nutrition company Provimi for about $2.2 billion.

Still, the single A-rated company is not about to switch to a highly-leveraged balance sheet to accommodate deals.

“We’re pretty underleveraged,” MacLennan said. “I kind of like it that way.”