Former Agro Biosciences bolsters industry-leading research, product development

Profiles in Innovation


When Agro Biosciences was purchased last May by Ewing, New Jersey-based Church & Dwight Co. Inc., it happened much earlier than Agro president Tom Rehberger expected.

Rehberger founded the then-Wauwatosa-based microbiological animal products manufacturer in 2013 after selling his previous startup, Pewaukee-based Agtech Products Inc. In four years, Agro had grown from four employees to more than 36, and boasted $11 million in revenue.

Agro Biosciences employees work to develop bio-based custom poultry, cattle and swine probiotic products. The team joined forces with Arm & Hammer Animal Nutrition in 2017.

The $75 million-plus acquisition, the largest startup exit in Wisconsin since 2006, was spurred by Church & Dwight’s interest in using Agro’s innovative custom poultry, cattle and swine probiotic products to improve and diversify its Princeton, New Jersey-based Arm & Hammer Animal Nutrition division, which produces nutritional feed ingredients for livestock.

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The acquisition allowed Arm & Hammer to enter the probiotic market space during a time when the food and agricultural industries are increasingly demanding bio-based products to better support production and prevent illness in animals on antibiotic-free farms.


“Anytime a small company grows and finds a niche for an emerging technology, like probiotics that are taking off in the poultry industry, it’s going to be a target for big companies that had never figured out how to innovate,” Rehberger said. “Innovation requires a lot of moving parts that have to all work together within a company. Sometimes, for big companies, that’s almost impossible.”

Rehberger now oversees innovation and product development for Church & Dwight’s targeted microbial solutions – the term Church & Dwight has coined to more accurately describe Agro’s research, development and production of dietary supplements containing living microorganisms that balance bacteria in the digestive tract.

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Almost one year after the acquisition, the company’s trajectory has evolved. The combined company, collectively made up of about 100 employees − 30 in Wisconsin and operating under the Arm & Hammer Animal Nutrition name − has been able to reach new market segments it had barely penetrated before they joined forces.

Agro brought to Arm & Hammer its poultry market expertise and in return, it gained resources and manpower for new products in the cattle market, an unfamiliar space. 

Agro also joined Arm & Hammer on new R&D efforts to study the interactions between live microbials and yeast in livestock feed and, on the human side, incorporating probiotic strains into Church & Dwight’s adult multivitamin brand, Vitafusion.

In May 2017, the company renovated an existing building and moved its Wisconsin operations to Waukesha.

“This is really a collaboration,” Rehberger said. “It’s a way to look at which company fits best in different positions and do what’s right for the business. We are the right piece that actually fit within the Arm & Hammer nutrition team.”

Rehberger believes the future of biotechnology in Wisconsin – especially in Madison and Milwaukee – holds great opportunity as consumer trends tilt toward clean labels and biological, rather than chemical, methods of preserving and processing food.

Leading the charge is the state’s historic and well-established fermentation industry – its beer, cheese and sausage producers – and the growing number of microbial industry startups, including Agro Biosciences’ Wauwatosa-based spin off, Third Wave Bioactives, a producer of natural preservatives and flavors for food using antimicrobial bacteria.

“Milwaukee and southeastern Wisconsin have a great opportunity to leverage those core competencies relative to fermentation and the health benefits of live microbial and yeast products,” he said.

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