Advanta : Overview

admin's picture


Industry Area:

Advanta is one of the world's leading seed businesses. Established in 1996, Advanta is the culmination of a joint venture between two well-established seed businesses: Royal Vanderhave Group, based in the Netherlands, and Zeneca Seeds, based in the United Kingdom



Advanta Seeds is a joint venture between chemical/pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca and seed company VanderHave. In 2000 it was the world's 6th largest seed company. In the UK and EU it ahs been involved in field trials of a range of GM crops. Elsewhere in the world it markets GM crop lines as well as conventionally bred crop lines. In the EU they have been involved in a major scandal when conventional seed stock they had supplied was found to have substantial levels of GM contamination. They have also been involved in the intimidation of UK anti-GM activists. Should GM crops be commercialised in Europe, it is likely that Advanta Seeds would be one of the companies at the forefront of marketing GM to farmers. Advanta Seeds is currently heavily involved in the UK GM crop regulatory process, and are pushing the EU to relax their position on levels of GM contamination in conventional crops.

Advanta’s mission statement:

Worldwide breeding, production, processing, conditioning, sales and distribution of seeds for major agricultural field-crops and amenity grasses [1].

The company's areas of expertise include: plant breeding; research and development; tissue culture; DNA finger printing - molecular markers; genetic modification; Seed technology/processing; seed production; marketing and sales.

Market Share/Importance:

Advanta is one of the world's leading seed breeding, production and marketing organisations. It comprises 35 operating companies throughout the world and with a turnover of more than 400 million Euros [2]. The combination of companies makes Advanta one of the five largest seed organisations in world [3].

According to RAFI [4], Advanta is the 6th largest seed company in the world, with 1999 annual sales of US $416 million.

Advanta is one of the six industrial groups that between them control most of the technology for commercial R&D in the area of GM crops [5].

Advanta claims to combine the strengths of its parent companies: VanderHave's depth of experience in seeds and Zeneca's advanced plant science capabilities.


Advanta Fact Sheet, 2000 [6] (million Euro)
Turnover: 405
R&D: 64
Capital expenditure: 5
Net assets: 192
Permanent year end employees: 2,084
Personnel by function: Production and processing: 40% R&D: 30% Marketing and sales: 20% General and administration: 10%


Imperial Chemicals Industry (ICI) was established in 1926 by amalgamating Britain's 4 largest chemical companies: Nobel Industries, the British Dyestuffs Company, the United Alkali Company, and Brunner, Mond Limited [7]. By the early 1990s ICI was selling 15,000 products in 150 countries. ICI was:

-the 3rd largest chemical group in the world

-the 2nd largest agrochemical producer and

-the 5th largest seed producer

After an unsuccessful hostile take-over bid in 1991 ICI reduced its vulnerability to such events by splitting the company in 1993 into a chemicals company and a bioscience group, Zeneca. On June 1, 1993, Zeneca became a separate company from ICI. The concept of life science has always been an important part of the Zeneca's thinking and rationale.

Zeneca/ICI acquired a number of seed companies in the 1980s and in 1996 these were combined into a 50:50 joint venture with VanderHave B.V.[8] (part of the Dutch Co-operative Cosun) to form a new company called Advanta. Advanta has a role in the development of the new seed varieties with Zeneca.

In 1998, Zeneca announced a merger with Swedish pharmaceutical corporation Astra. The merger was completed in 1999, and created a company - AstraZeneca - with $10bn/yr sales which ranked 2nd in European and in UK sales and 3rd among world drug companies, after Merck and Glaxo Wellcome. The merger was driven by a desire to reduce costs (by $1.1bn annually, or 6,000 jobs) and to obtain better access to the US drug market.

In December 1999 AstraZeneca and Novartis of Switzerland announced that they were merging their agrochemical operations, and Novartis's seed business, to form Syngenta of Switzerland. Advanta was not part of the deal. Novartis received 61% of the new company and AstraZeneca 39%. Syngenta [9] is the world's 3rd biggest maker of seeds, after DuPont (Pioneer) and Pharmacia (Monsanto)[10].

In 1999, Advanta was in the red. The controversy surrounding the use of genetically modified seeds caused the company considerable inconvenience: it lost 30% of its sales in the US. In spite of this setback, Cosun CEO Menkhorst foresees a bright future for GM seeds. "With the global population growing at high speed, there is a need for more food. In addition, if genetic engineering can create products with improved traits, the use of GM seeds will boom" [11].

On January 1, 2000, one corporate company was established in the United States for all of the Advanta Companies. The new company is Advanta USA, Inc. which owns Interstate Seeds, AgriPro Wheat, AgriPro Seeds and Garst Seed Co.

The same year, Advanta made headlines in Europe when oilseed rape seeds it had sold were found to contain small amounts of genetically modified material forbidden by the EU. The seeds, grown in Canada, were contaminated by windblown pollen from other GM oilseed rape nearby.



[2] Some sheets containing information about Advanta produced by the company itself (Advanta, Key figures and addresses 2000)

[3] (global seed network) (14.09.2001)

[4] RAFI (Rural Advancement Foundation International) top 10 global seed companies - 2000 (measured by 1999 seed sales)

[5] 'The six industrial groups controlling most of the technology that gives freedom to undertake commercial R&D in the area of GM crops' (data from January 2000, Journal of Commercial Biotech): AgrEvo/Plant Genetic Systems (PGS); DuPont/Pioneer; ELM/DNAP/Asgrow/Seminis; Monsanto/Calgene/DelKalb/Agracetus/PBI/Hybritech/Delta; Pine Co.; Novartis; and Zeneca/Mogen/Advanta

[6] Some sheets containing information about Advanta produced by the company itself (Advanta, Key figures and addresses 2000)

[7] South Africa - An Historical Overview of the Chemical Industry : 1896 - 2000. (14.09.2001)

[8] VanderHave is a Dutch seed company, subsidiary of Suiker Unie. Suiker Unie is the largest business unit of Cosun, a Dutch agricultural cooperative with more than 14,000 members. One of Europe's oldest producer cooperatives, Cosun was started in 1899 by farmers wanting to improve the price they were receiving for their sugarbeets ( ). Many of the members of the Co-operative Cosun appear to be farmers. The companies include: Suiker Unie (crystallised sugar), Sucrea (sugar specialities), Sensus (ingredients), Nedalco (alcohol), SVZ (fruit and vegetable products), Aviko (potato products e.g. chips), Unifine (spices), Theeuwen (mushroom compost)

[9] Syngenta AG CEO Michael Pragnell has declared several times that Syngenta had plans to acquire rivals in the seeds business to boost it's position as the 3rd biggest maker of seeds. Advanta Seeds has been mentioned several times as a likely acquisition target, as well as Delta and Pine and Co (Bloomberg News, 18/03/2001). Last May (2001) Syngenta reported the company's sales were down by 8% (1st quarter sales), due to bad weather, depressed commodity prices and Europe's farm crisis, and again, the company said the option of acquiring Advanta Seeds was still open to them.

[10] Life science corporations license many seed companies. From an economic perspective this makes perfect sense

[11] Reformatorisch Dagblad, 5 April 2000, 'Consun wil hard groeien in voedingsingrediÎnten' ( )