Perhaps sellside M&A will prove easier for 3G and Warren Buffett than purchases. The Brazilian private equity firm and the Oracle of Omaha built Kraft Heinz up through pricey acquisitions. But the edifice began to collapse in 2019 when Kraft Heinz took a $15bn writedown on various laggard brands. The group has been retrenching since, trying to shed what was once a $30bn debt load.
On Thursday, Kraft Heinz announced that it would sell its nuts business, including the Planters brand, to its rival Hormel for $3.4bn. Divestitures are always risky. Even if cash is received, profits are permanently lost. However, the implied enterprise value-to-ebitda multiple of 15 times is juicy enough to make the deal more than worth it. Kraft Heinz itself trades at just 10 times.
The pandemic has been an unexpected boon for Kraft Heinz. It said on Thursday that its organic sales growth rate for the year was 6.5 per cent, as consumers were forced to cook and snack more at home. It is scaling back to focus on three core areas — flavours, quick-and-easy meals and snacking.
Consumer companies are constantly altering their portfolios. The stated rationale for how businesses fit together shift and can sometimes make little sense either at the time or in hindsight. Hormel, buyer of the Kraft Heinz nuts business, already owns the Skippy peanut butter brand so that fit seems more obvious than usual. However, food group Treehouse is facing activist pressure this week to sell itself. The same activist, Jana Partners, once pressured another company, ConAgra, into selling a unit to Treehouse.
Mr Buffett and 3G once believed that branded food companies could keep growing despite strict cost controls and high profit margins. The Kraft Heinz debacle has been humbling. The company’s shares, even after rallying more than 50 per cent since March, are still a third of their 2017 highs. Mr Buffett and 3G can only dream of divesting the rest of the star-crossed company.
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