While transactions the magnitude of those completed earlier in the decade in baking, such as those involving Sara Lee and Hostess, have been scant, merger and acquisition activity has been brisk this year. Numerous acquisitions, mostly by private equity firms, have been announced in recent months, and interest is thought to be running high moving forward. Among recent deals, the acquisition by Alpha Baking Co. of Chicago from ConAgra Foods, Inc. may not be that large of a transaction, but it is one especially rich with meaning.
For ConAgra, the sale represents another step away from its grain-based roots dating back to when the company was established in 1919 as Nebraska Consolidated Mills Co. While still a part owner of Ardent Mills, the company no longer is an active operator in milling and also has disposed of major holdings in pasta manufacturing.
The transaction also continues a trend of baking industry assets moving to companies for which baking is a core business. Alpha Baking has been in the baking business since 1979, and the company’s principals have industry roots in baking dating back generations. While historically the company has focused on baking bread, buns and rolls, the newly acquired business extends Alpha into the sweet goods category for the first time. The move suggests a hopeful assessment of demand for indulgent baked foods and represents an upbeat view of overall industry prospects.