Best bits: Kerry, Hain Celestial, Greencore put M&A back in headlines
After a few months of relative calm, the food industry has, in the last week or so, seen a number of takeovers - signed or speculated - hit the headlines.
Last Tuesday, analysts at financial firm Grant Thornton said M&A activity in the UK food and drink industries had slowed in the third quarter of the year. Perhaps a reflection of the slowing economy and cautious business sentiment, the number of deals fell by more than 5% compared to the second quarter of 2011.
Coincidentally, that same day, came developments on three fronts. First, the UK's competition watchdog said it had "provisionally" cleared Kerry Group's takeover of fellow frozen ready meals maker Headland Foods. The deal was signed in January but came under scrutiny after retail customers complained the combined Kerry-Headland business had asked for price hikes. However, the Competition Commission said last week that retailers had managed to find alternative suppliers, which meant Kerry's takeover of Headland could move a step closer to completion. The Commission's final verdict will emerge next month and, should the deal be formally approved, could encourage more deal-making in the UK private-label sector.
Later that day, Greencore, one of the largest own-label suppliers to UK retailers, surprised the market with an announcement that it had received a takeover approach. The Ireland-based company did not name the mystery suitor and said only that talks were "at a preliminary stage".
News of the talks came almost a year after Greencore announced what in the end turned to be unrealised plans to merge with UK rival Northern Foods. It is also only a month since Greencore sealed the acquisition of UK desserts and sandwich maker Uniq. That deal could have been seen as a potential obstacle to any bidder but it could be argued that, from the very day that Greencore was trumped in its plans to merge with Northern by poultry tycoon Ranjit Boparan, the company has been an attractive takeover target, given the underlying trend for consolidation in UK own label.
Speculation over who could be in talks with Greencore took in Kerry Group and Associated British Foods but some analysts centred on the possibility that private equity, in tandem with the company's management, were the most likely suitors. And, given the growing US business that Greencore has been building, that private-equity interest could be from either side of the Atlantic.
After nine years in the control of businesses from Singapore, Daniels, which owns brands including New Covent Garden soup, joins a Hain Celestial business that has the Linda McCartney meat-free range in its stable but which has largely struggled in the UK. Hain Celestial chief Irwin Simon was very optimistic about the possible benefits of the deal for both companies and it is clear that the combination of the two product portfolios in the UK could open up opportunities here, in Europe and the US.
However, the New Covent Garden brand has had a difficult year and is facing competition from retailers either launching or refreshing their offering in chilled soup. Hain Celestial has worked hard to build its UK business and, in some ways, the acquisition of Daniels will present fresh challenges.
Given the fragmented nature of the UK food sector, similar deals will continue to be struck. The volatility in commodity prices and weak consumer demand means companies need to control costs and M&A can provide a means of doing that. Suppliers also need to grow in size to improve their bargaining power against retailers, who are also demanding wider portfolios from larger manufacturers. It should keep the M&A advisers - and headline writers - happy.
Ireland's Greencore said today (17 April) that it plans to build on its presence in the US through the acquisition of convenience food firm Marketfare Foods for US$36m....
The Food and Drink Expo took place in Birmingham, UK, this week, hosting a raft of manufacturers and grocers from across the UK's food and drinks sector....
Kerry Group today (29 March) told workers at a production site in the UK that it plans to close the facility, a local trade union has said....
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