Monsanto’s decision to revamp commercial strategy for Roundup puts one of industry’s finest cash cows out to pasture. “The reality that Chinese glyphosate capacity is profoundly overbuilt” is forcing the company to price Roundup nearer to generics and simplify the product line, Monsanto says.
Roundup-branded glyphosate, commercialized by Monsanto in 1976, is one of the few blockbuster molecules developed by industry since the early 1970s. Methyl-tert butyl ether (MTBE), invented by Arco Chemical in the 1960s and commercialized in 1979, is the only other molecule developed by industry since the 1970s to generate sales of more than $1 billion/year.
Monsanto has harvested nearly $11 billion in gross profit from Roundup and other glyphosate-based herbicides over the past 10 years. Steady profits from Roundup have been used since the mid-1990s to build Monsanto’s leading position in biotech seeds and traits. Sales for Roundup and other glyphosate-based herbicides peaked at about $4 billion in 2008 when the product line generated record gross profit of nearly $2 billion. Going forward Roundup and other glyphosate-based herbicides are expected to generate gross profit of $250 million-$300 million/year. That is a small fraction of its 2008 peak and less than a quarter of the average profit over the past 10 years. Roundup, for sure, is not going away. But as Monsanto CEO Hugh Grant noted on a call with investors Thursday, the business "officially graduates to the background of our earnings profile."