Kale yeah! Bayer caps Monsanto acquisition with living veggie billboards in St. Louis

Bayer's living billboards in St. Louis along major highways went up as it closed its acquisition of Monsanto. (Bayer)

Bayer’s newest billboards are literally sprouting up around St. Louis. Two boards went up last week with depictions of the iconic Gateway Arch planted in greenery—kale, collard greens and chard, specifically.

The white background bears the single phrase “St. Louis, let’s grow together” along with a Bayer logo in the left-hand corner to herald the close of the German drugmaker's Monsanto acquisition. St. Louis, the former headquarters of Monsanto, now becomes Bayer’s largest site in the U.S. with some 5,500 employees, eclipsing the previous largest Bayer office in Whippany, New Jersey.

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The living billboards will stay up through Sept. 12, when the vegetables will be harvested and donated to the St. Louis Area Foodbank for distribution to local families, Raymond Kerins Jr., senior vice president of corporate affairs at Bayer, said.

“While this is fun and creative, it is part of a larger program related to the region and what our plans are,” he said. “It’s not just a static billboard with a static message. We’re trying to utilize science and engineering to creatively send a message to people about the important role this is going to play in the future. We need more engineers, more scientists and more researchers to find those next cures and help us advance life.”

Bayer’s $66 billion acquisition of agriculture giant Monsanto was approved by the Justice Department in May and closed in June. Last week, the Bayer brand officially replaced Monsanto with office signs and corporate email changes after it wrapped final details with the DOJ.

Bayer is treading lightly with the St. Louis community, which has been burned by previous corporate takeover commitments. St. Louis newspaper reports this week referenced a plea to Bayer, “please don’t InBev us,” a callback to the Belgian brewing company that bought Anheuser-Busch 10 years ago and moved executive and creative jobs out of town.  

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Kerins said St. Louis will remain the global headquarter for seeds, as well as the North American headquarters for operations and also the crop science business.

Expect more creative marketing from Bayer as the merging of the two companies and cultures continues in a long-game play.

“The opportunity for us to look at what is best in the combined company is important because ultimately, if you really stop and think about what we’ve acquired, we’ve acquired a biotechnology company. They’re use biotechnology to advance a particular area and expertise that we did not have in house,” Kerins said.

Still, some analysts have worried Bayer's new focus on agriculture would hurt its pipeline development, and as the company's recent sales show, now's not a good time for in-development candidates to slip. In May, Bayer said cancer meds Stivarga and Xofigo—two of its top five growth products on the life sciences side—had lost ground in the first quarter compared with the same period last year and had fallen short sales-wise by double-digit margins.