Analysis: Mars Donates $40M to WFC; Marrone in Deep Trouble

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UC Davis, through its World Food Center, and Mars, Inc. (the candy manufacturer) announced on Wednesday that they “have agreed to pursue the establishment of a new institute designed to deliver big-impact, Silicon Valley-type breakthroughs in food, agriculture and health.”

An independent advisory committee chaired by Bruce German, professor of food science and technology at UC Davis, will facilitate the design and development of the Innovation Institute for Food and Health prior to its launch in January 2015, the university announced in a press release Wednesday.

“Establishing the Innovation Institute for Food and Health will mark a great step forward in addressing the sustainability challenges we face at the nexus between food, agriculture and health,” said UC Davis Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi. “We are proud to be at the forefront of this multidisciplinary and multifunctional effort to confront these issues head-on through innovation at scale.”

Critically, the university announced, “The institute will become the innovation arm of the World Food Center at UC Davis and advance new discoveries in sustainable food, agriculture and health along the entire innovation process from laboratory research to commercialization.”

“The Innovation Institute for Food and Health will use the World Food Center’s infrastructure to provide an inclusive environment that brings in a variety of partners. We see great opportunities to collaborate across the UC system and beyond,” said Roger Beachy, executive director of the UC Davis World Food Center.

Mars will commit a minimum of $40 million to support the new institute over 10 years, and UC Davis will provide $20 million over the same time period.

“The global food and agriculture system has a profound impact on several key sustainability areas, from climate change to food security,” said Harold Schmitz, Chief Science Officer at Mars and Senior Scholar in Management at the UC Davis Graduate School of Management. “To make true progress on these issues, we will have to partner across sectors to drive and scale transformational innovation — the Innovation Institute for Food and Health will facilitate this approach.”

The World Food Center, and where it locates, has become a thorny issue in Davis. Two weeks ago, the Vanguard noted that Chancellor Katehi argued that the third campus is not an effort to move things away from Davis, but rather the opportunity that would put the center to where it would have easy access to policymakers in Sacramento.

She said, “There is no better place than Sacramento for that type of work.”

She would add that locating the World Food Center, not on the main campus in Davis or in one of the newly-built innovations parks, but in Sacramento near the health campus would strengthen links between food and health. She stated that there would be a School of Population and Global Health located there, as well.

Some expressed to the Vanguard, following a commentary critical of the chancellor, that the location of the World Food Center is less important than where the research and startup money occurs.

The Bee reports that the World Food Center “is expected to move east and become the anchor tenant of a ‘third campus’ somewhere in the Sacramento area in the coming years.”

However, as UC Davis spokesperson Andy Fell told media sources, the money from Mars will not be used for building a campus, it will be used for research and innovation funding. Those are naturally the types of money and resources that Davis wishes to see stay within the community rather than moving across the causeway.

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Is Marrone Bio Innovations in Trouble?

Last year Davis saw both good news and bad news in biotechnology. Pam Marrone and her new company, Marrone Bio Innovations, had gone public last year, which helped to quell the bad news that her original company, AgraQuest, was moving to West Sacramento.

However, two weeks ago Marrone Bio Innovations announced it was performing an internal audit of its financial reports. They commenced “an internal investigation after management learned of documents calling into question the recognition of revenue in the fourth quarter of 2013 for an $870,000 transaction. The Audit Committee has retained independent legal advisers to assist it in this investigation.”

In the announcement, they determined that the company’s financial statements for the fiscal year ending December 31, 2013, “should no longer be relied upon as being in compliance with generally accepted accounting principles.”

As a result, four class action law suits have been filed in federal court in Sacramento and at least 22 law firms have announced they are investigating the company’s finances, the Sacramento Business Journal reported yesterday.

One suit brought by plaintiff Ssuchia Chen, alleges violations of the federal securities law.

It contends the company “disseminated false and misleading statements and failed to disclose that it had improperly recognized revenue in violation of generally accepted accounting principles.” They alleged that these were intentional and caused the stock to be traded “at artificially inflated prices.”

Naturally, Marrone is not commenting on the suits or investigations.

Where will this end up? It is not clear, but this could be a huge problem for a critical company in Davis’ emerging tech sector.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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7 thoughts on “Analysis: Mars Donates $40M to WFC; Marrone in Deep Trouble”

  1. Barack Palin

    I like to play the stock market and lawsuits like the ones being filed against Marrone are quite common. When a stock loses value and there’s any alledged impropriety lawyers will come out of the cracks and look to file lawsuits. In the end if Marrone were to lose usually the stockholders end up with a few pennies per share and the lawyers make the big money.

      1. Don Shor

        Maybe the Vanguard editorial board needs an ad hoc advisory committee of experts from across the fields of business, finance, and government, to whom they could turn with questions that require special expertise.

  2. Rich RifkinWDE 73

    “Where will this end up? It is not clear, but this could be a huge problem for a critical company in Davis’ emerging tech sector.”

    This sort of financial accounting problem is not too serious, if it is just a one-time mistake and not part of a pattern or an attempted fraud to make its profits seem bigger or its losses smaller.

    What really counts is the continuing demand for Marrone’s pesticides and herbicides. I don’t know the market (at all), so of course I have no idea if their products are particularly good or particularly cost-effective. Ultimately, as with any manufacturer, Marrone needs to make a product which does a better job or does the job for less money than competitors. The real challenge over the long-haul is sustaining one or both of those edges, as competitors come up with new products or perhaps cheaper versions.

  3. Napoleon Pig IV

    Remember that important question, “Who will watch the watchers?” Well, in the case of the bottom-feeding, second-rate lawyers who seek to profit from minor accounting glitches, the question should be, “Who will parasitize the parasite?” And, of course, a few extra avenging parasites might be allocated to the accountants who over the years have made the rules of GAAP such a farce. Oink!

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