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Universal Corp  (UVV)
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    Sector  Consumer Non Cyclical    Industry Tobacco


Universal Corp

Business Description

We are the leading global leaf tobacco supplier. We operate in over 30 countries on five continents and procure, finance, process, pack, store and ship leaf tobacco and other agri-products. Tobacco has been our principal focus since our founding in 1918. The largest portion of our business involves procuring and processing flue-cured and burley leaf tobacco for manufacturers of consumer tobacco products. We do not manufacture any consumer products. Rather, we support consumer product manufacturers by selling them processed raw products and performing related services for them. Our reportable segments for our flue-cured and burley tobacco operations are North America and Other Regions. We also have a third reportable segment, Other Tobacco Operations, which comprises our dark tobacco business, our oriental tobacco joint venture, and certain tobacco- and non-tobacco-related services.

We believe that by following several key operating principles we can continue to produce good financial returns from our business and enhance shareholder value. These key operating principles are:

Strategic market position. We work closely with both our customers and suppliers to ensure that we deliver a product that meets our customers' needs while cultivating a strong, sustainable supplier base. We balance purchases of leaf tobacco against indicated customer demand and maintain global procurement and production operations to maximize supply chain efficiencies.

Strong local management. Having strong local management in all of our key supply origins allows us to identify and react to constantly shifting market conditions. Empowered and experienced local management, coupled with global coordination, affords us the flexibility and knowledge necessary to adapt quickly in order to continually deliver high quality, competitively-priced products and services.

Compliant products. Customers expect a sustainable supply of compliant, traceable, competitively-priced product, and we believe that we lead in delivering these products. Among other initiatives, we invest in training farmers in good agricultural practices that encompass crop quality, environmental stewardship and agricultural labor standards.

Diversified sources. We operate in over 30 countries on five continents and maintain a presence in all major flue-cured, burley, oriental, and dark air-cured tobacco origin markets. This global presence allows us to meet our customers' diverse leaf requirements while minimizing the effects of adverse crop conditions and other localized supply disruptions.

Financial strength. Financial strength is critical and enables us to fund our global operations efficiently and to facilitate investment when suitable opportunities arise. Management of liquidity, interest expense and capital costs provides us with a competitive advantage and affords us flexibility when responding to customer requirements and market changes.

Our primary business is procuring, financing, processing, packing, storing, and shipping leaf tobacco for sale to manufacturers of consumer tobacco products. Procuring leaf tobacco involves contracting with, providing agronomy support to, and financing farmers in many origins. We do not manufacture cigarettes or other consumer tobacco products. Rather, we support consumer product manufacturers by selling them processed leaf tobacco and performing related services for them. Through various operating subsidiaries and unconsolidated affiliates located in tobacco-growing origins around the world, we contract, purchase, process, and sell flue-cured and burley tobaccos, as well as dark air-cured and oriental tobaccos. Flue-cured, burley, and oriental tobaccos are used principally in the manufacture of cigarettes, and dark air-cured tobaccos are used mainly in the manufacture of cigars, smokeless, and pipe tobacco products. We also provide value-added services to our customers, including blending, chemical and physical testing of tobacco, service cutting for select manufacturers, manufacturing reconstituted leaf tobacco, and managing just-in-time inventory.
Several important operating factors characterize our company and our primary business, leaf tobacco:

Experience dealing with large numbers of farmers,

Expertise in delivering a sustainable supply of compliant, traceable, competitively-priced leaf tobacco,

Capability to meet unique customer requirements for style, volume and quality,

Longstanding customer relationships,

Presence in all major leaf tobacco sourcing areas, and

Financial strength and flexibility.

In addition to our leaf tobacco business, we are involved in other agribusiness opportunities. We participate in a joint venture that supplies liquid nicotine, manufactured in the United States, to the vapor products industry. When looking at new opportunities, we seek prospects where we believe we can earn an adequate return, leverage our assets and expertise, and enhance our farmer base. For example, with our food ingredients business, we identified a business that we believe will enhance the value of our company, build on our expertise as a business-to-business supplier of agricultural ingredients to companies that produce consumer products, and support tobacco farmers who grow sweet potatoes as a rotational crop.

We are a major purchaser and processor in the chief exporting regions for flue-cured and burley tobacco throughout the world. Africa, Brazil, and the United States produce approximately 60% of the flue-cured and burley tobacco grown outside of China. We estimate that we have historically handled, through leaf sales or processing, between 35% and 45% of the annual production of such tobaccos in Africa, between 15% and 25% in Brazil, and between 25% and 35% in the United States. These percentages can change from year to year based on the size, price, and quality of the crops. As tobacco growing regions have expanded in Africa, we have handled a larger proportion of the crops there. We participate in the procurement, processing, storage, and sale of oriental tobacco through ownership of a 49% equity interest in Socotab, L.L.C., a leading supplier of oriental tobaccos. In addition, we maintain a presence, and in certain cases, a leading presence, in virtually all other major tobacco growing regions in the world. We believe that our leading position in the leaf tobacco industry is based on our operating presence in all of the major sourcing areas, our ability to meet customer style, volume, and quality requirements, our expertise in dealing with large numbers of farmers, our long-standing relationships with customers, our development of processing equipment and technologies, and our financial position. The efficiencies that we offer our customers, due to our established network of operational expertise and infrastructure on the ground and our ability to market most styles and grades of leaf to a diverse customer base, are also key to our success.



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