B&G Foods full steam down snack track

by Eric Schroeder
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BOSTON — It has been nearly a year since B&G Foods, Inc. made its first snack acquisition, purchasing the New York Style and Old London brands from Chipita America, Inc. for about $62.5 million. With two more acquisitions in the fold since May, the company now expects snacks to contribute about 19% to sales, a significant spike for a company that as recently as 2011 was known primarily for its Ortega brand of Mexican taco shells and Cream of Wheat hot cereals.

In acquiring the New York Style and Old London brands, B&G Foods believes it is taking over a brand that was mismanaged.

“This is a business that the prior owners who bought it in 2008-09 consolidated plants and really built what we would call a ‘superplant’ in North Carolina,” Bob Cantwell, chief financial officer and executive vice-president of finance for B&G Foods, said during the Barclays Back-to-School Conference held Sept. 4 in Boston. “They spent over $100 million on machinery in this plant. They had huge expectations for this brand. This brand was twice the size it was today when they bought it. They really just hurt this brand dramatically. They just didn’t know how to manage a brand in the United States.”

As a result, B&G was able to buy the brands for a little more than $62 million, significantly less than the value of the North Carolina plant.

“We have this under-utilized, really state-of-the-art plant that is a first-class baking and packaging operation that we can put a lot of snacks into as we build a snack business,” Mr. Cantwell said. “And we think there’s a lot of upside on the sales.”

Mr. Cantwell said the New York Style business is about half the size it was five years ago, but since B&G acquired the business last fall the decline has stopped. This month the company initiated a full relaunch of the brand, including new packaging. He believes the brand should be able to compete with other key category players.

“This is a product line that is sold in the deli department of stores,” he said. “This is a deli snack business like Stacy’s and Pretzel Crisps. And really, Pretzel Crisps and Stacy’s grew as this thing — they expanded sales in the deli substantially, but really took away from this brand because nobody was watching the store.

“So there’s brand new packaging. Consumers are very loyal. Consumers who buy this are very loyal to this product, and it just hasn’t been paid attention to. And there were a lot of issues when we bought the business, and it really took us nine months to stop the decline and really make this plan for this push, starting now. So we see good things in the fourth quarter.”

Even more is in store for the brand in 2014, when Mr. Cantwell said B&G plans to add sweet offerings, called Sweet Swirls, to go along with the current bagel chip and pita chip products. To jumpstart the Sweet Swirls launch B&G will turn to a familiar name: Cinnabon. B&G has licensed the Cinnabon name for use in its Cream of Wheat cereals since September 2010. Along with Cinnabon baked snack crisps B&G initially will offer a chocolate variety of Sweet Swirls.

“We have a lineup of other new products that we’re going to launch against this brand and let people know we are truly paying attention as we go forward,” Mr. Cantwell said.

‘Diamond in the rough’

A second snacks brand that B&G is counting on is TrueNorth. The brand initially was passed over as an acquisition target several years ago when the brand’s founder, PepsiCo, Inc., was looking for a buyer. At the time PepsiCo reached out to B&G the latter was not interested in the snacks business. Now, after acquiring the TrueNorth brand from DeMet’s Candy Co. this past May, B&G sees the business as a “diamond in the rough.”

“(PepsiCo) ended up selling it to (Brynwood Partners V L.P.) who put it in one of their candy businesses,” Mr. Cantwell said. “And they managed it. They didn’t do anything with it, but they kept it flat. Again, we think there’s a lot of real opportunity on this, as we built a snack organization to really try to sell this.”

TrueNorth nut cluster varieties include almond pecan crunch, chocolate nut crunch and cashew crunch.

“It’s a very good nut cluster product,” Mr. Cantwell said. “It’s all-natural. It is gluten-free. It is what people would want to eat once they’ve had this. It doesn’t sell in a lot of places today. It’s a huge club business. It has ended up in a lot of where candy has sold, because it’s been sold by a candy distributor. A huge opportunity on this brand.”

Walking the plank to success

The most recent acquisition made by B&G in the snack segment is also the one that already was performing the best. B&G bought Pirate Brands in July for approximately $195 million from VMG Partners, Driven Capital Management, Robert Ehrlich and others.

Founded in 1987, Pirate Brands consists of three separate brands: Pirate’s Booty, Smart Puffs and Original Tings. Pirate’s Booty accounts for about 90% of Pirate Brands’ net sales, but all are positioned as all-natural, gluten-free healthy choices for adults and children.

“We think the Pirate’s Booty name is a great name,” Mr. Cantwell said. “It’s been growing at over 20% a year. There’s a lot more growth to it and a lot more ability to take that Pirate’s Booty name outside of its existing product line.”

Currently about 90% of what is sold in the Pirate’s Booty line in various sizes is an aged white cheddar product, but other opportunities exist for the brand.

“It could be kids’ crackers in shapes of Pirates; it could be lots of things,” Mr. Cantwell said. “We could be in macaroni and cheese. We could be in fruit roll-ups. There’s a lot of things that this brand, we think, could translate to.”

Opportunities also exist for expanded distribution.

He said the brand primarily is “heavily” distributed on the East coast, has “pretty good” distribution on the West coast, and has “spotty” distribution in the center of the United States. B&G plans to change that, he said. Although the brand is sold in Costco and Target stores, it is not yet available at Wal-Mart. That, too, needs to change, Mr. Cantwell said.

“Wal-Mart is a huge opportunity for this brand,” he said. “It just hasn’t sold in Wal-Mart for various issues. But it is too big of a brand, and it needs to be in Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart struggles with the whole natural category, too. So it is problematic within their store. But it needs to be there. It’s not that high-priced. It should be in Wal-Mart, and it needs to get there.”

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