Inside B&G Foods' M.&A. strategy
by Monica Watrous
ORLANDO, FLA. — Two key advantages differentiate B&G Foods, Inc. from competitors in the acquisition arena: an interest in smaller brands and a willingness to buy in bulk.
“So, if we’re chasing a $40 million-in-sales acquisition, the big companies don’t care about something like that,” said David Wenner, president and chief executive officer of Parsippany, N.J.-based B&G Foods, during a Jan. 14 presentation at the Integrated Corporate Relations XChange in Orlando. “It’s a lot of work for not much return for them, where for us it would still be about 5% of our sales, so that’s meaningful to us, so that limits our competition from that point of view.”
While bigger companies may prefer to pick and choose which brands to buy, B&G Foods said it’s willing to purchase packages of brands, as it did in 2011 when it acquired six businesses from Unilever.
“Large companies again are not going to do that typically because they’re going to look at it and go, ‘I want this one, and I want this one; I don’t want those other four,’” Mr. Wenner said. “And so if we can offer a solution to a Unilever or a Kraft or a Heinz or whoever’s divesting a package of properties where we can say we’ll take them all, they much, much prefer a one-stop solution than three, four processes going on in terms of that divesture.”
M.&A., he said, is a “lumpy process,” and the property and circumstances have to be just right in order for B&G Foods to strike a deal.
“What we’re looking for is typically branded food products that have very strong defensible positions, either No. 1 or No. 2 position, in the category they compete in or in some cases niche products that really are very unique when we look at things that are the same as what we have today that obviously offers synergies in terms of infrastructure, sales, distribution, and things like that,” Mr. Wenner said. “The fact that we have a fully developed infrastructure gives us a strong advantage over private equity buyers in terms of the multiples we can afford to pay.”
Last year, B&G Foods unveiled new packaging and flavors for its New York Style business, a brand it said was “broken” when the company bought it in October 2012.
More recently, B&G Foods has ventured into snack acquisitions, with four additions to its portfolio within the course of a year: New York Style and Old London brands of snack chips and crisps, TrueNorth nut clusters, Pirate Brands better-for-you snacks and Rickland Orchards Greek yogurt-coated bars.
“Snacks seemed to be an opportunity for several reasons,” Mr. Wenner told investors. “First off, as many of you know, there has been a decline in dry grocery going on two years now where volumes are very, very difficult in dry grocery. I firmly believe that one of the reasons that’s true is people are snacking more; they’re not eating those sit-down dinners that they used to eat and so the whole behavior has changed from a consumer point of view. So it behooves us to consider well, this is where our consumers are going, we should go there.”
Snacks also provide more growth opportunity in warehouse clubs, he said.
“And if you look at warehouse clubs and walk through warehouse clubs, the dry grocery offerings in warehouse clubs are extremely limited, but the snack offerings in warehouse clubs are very, very strong and growing,” he said.
Last year, B&G Foods unveiled new packaging and flavors for its New York Style business, a brand that was “broken” when the company bought it in October 2012, Mr. Wenner said.
“We coupled that with display activity, one of the things that we saw was broken in this brand,” Mr. Wenner said. “This brand sells in the deli section of the supermarket. When you went into the deli section of the supermarket, it was invisible, and you won’t win in the deli section by displaying product at the right times of the year. And I’m happy to say that we’ve done a great job of creating displays, creating the packaging and getting the product out at consumers and done very well in terms of the lift.”
Since launching the effort, Mr. Wenner said sales at “one significant New York retailer” increased 54%, and the product line has gained distribution in Wal-Mart and re-established distribution in major customers, including Safeway.
“So, we believe we’ve got this brand not only fixed, but on a roll in terms of where it’s going to go,” he said.
New products in the line include sweet baked snack crisps in chocolate and Cinnabon varieties. Licensing with such brands as Cinnabon and Crock-Pot continues to benefit B&G Foods’ bottom line.
Licensing with such brands as Cinnabon and Crock-Pot represents a growth engine for B&G Foods.
“Licensing to us represents an instant brand awareness, and in this case, we’ve come out with a line of seasonings for slow cookers labeled Crock-Pot,” Mr. Wenner said. “Kind of makes it very easy for the consumers to figure out what you’re supposed to do with this line, which is important. I mean you literally can spend tens of millions of dollars launching a new brand and telling consumers why they should buy the brand. We like it to be as obvious as it can be, and Crock-Pot is one of the ways we solve that problem.”
Line extensions and warehouse club distribution also are planned for the TrueNorth brand, which B&G Foods bought last May.
As for Pirate Brands, which was growing “very, very fast” when B&G Foods acquired it last July, “Pirate’s is the one where we’re not sure how far is up with Pirate’s in terms of what we can do with it,” Mr. Wenner said. “To this point, it’s been pretty much a one-note song with aged white cheddar flavor in various venues, but we think it’s extendable into a variety of snacking products, and we’re doing that as we speak. We inherited double-digit growth; we aspire to keep it that way.”