NEW YORK — Hostess Brands L.L.C., B&G Foods, Inc. and Ferrero Group have emerged as first-round bidders for Kellogg Co.’s cookies and snacks businesses, according to a report from CNBC. Sources also told the news outlet that several private equity firms are in the mix for the businesses in a deal that could fetch more than $1.5 billion.
Kellogg first announced it was exploring the sale of its cookie business and its fruit snacks business last fall. Cookie brands include Keebler, Famous Amos, Mother’s Cookies and Murray. Stretch Island is a fruit snacks brand.
“We need to make strategic choices about our business, and these brands have had difficulty competing for resources and investments within our portfolio,” Steven A. Cahillane, chairman and chief executive officer of Kellogg, said during a Nov. 12, 2018, conference call. “Yet, we wholeheartedly believe these iconic and beloved brands can thrive in the portfolio of another organization that can focus on driving growth in these particular categories.”
Kellogg acquired Keebler for $3.86 billion in 2001.
Kansas City-based Hostess was quiet on the acquisition front in fiscal 2018, an intentional strategy, C. Dean Metropoulos, executive chairman, said during a late February conference call. He did note at the time that the company is still on the hunt for targets that will complement its existing mix of businesses.
“Rest assured, we have looked at every snack acquisition that has been announced this year,” he said. “We just could not get quite comfortable with the valuations that these acquisitions went for. However, we will remain disciplined and very focused on acquisitions. … we feel very confident that as larger companies continue to focus on core businesses, activists are pushing them to focus on core businesses, there would be significant acquisition activities for the years to come. We plan to be there looking at them, synergizing, looking for synergies, looking to apply our culture for performance and transformation in place, and we feel very confident about that next dimension of Hostess' future growth.”
Meanwhile, Hostess’ potential competition in the bidding process for the Kellogg’s businesses have been active on the acquisition front.
B&G Foods, Inc., Parsippany, N.J., acquired McCann’s Irish Oatmeal from TreeHouse Foods, Inc. last summer for approximately $32 million in cash. But just a few months later the company parted with Pirate Brands, selling the snack brand to Hershey Co. in a transaction valued at $420 million. At the time of the Pirate Brands sale, Robert C. Cantwell, president and c.e.o. of B&G Foods, said “it was just time to move on from snacks.”
“And I don’t want to ever say that, for some reason, something comes to market that makes sense again,” he said in an Oct. 30, 2018, conference call with analysts. “But I think we are really going to focus outside of snacks from an acquisition alternative and really focus today on certainly center of the store and expanding our footprint in frozen based on what comes to market.”
B&G Foods owns both the Back to Nature cookie and cracker business and the New York Style bagel chip business, but Mr. Cantwell described those brands as “more center-of-the-store oriented.”
Luxembourg-based Ferrero Group, the third largest chocolate confectionery company with global sales of more than $12 billion, entered the United States in 1969 with Tic Tac and subsequently Ferrero Rocher and Nutella brands. The company recently acquired Nestle USA’s confectionery business after earlier buying Fannie May Confections and Ferrara Candy Co.
Ferrero also has been identified by CNBC as a potential buyer of Campbell Soup Co.’s Australia-based Arnott’s cookie business. Camden, N.J.-based Campbell Soup announced plans to divest its Campbell International business unit in late August 2018. In addition to Ferrero, CNBC said Mondelez International and Kraft Heinz Co. have expressed interest in the Arnott’s cookie business.