Heinz has reaffirmed that it is looking for acquisitions, including in infant nutrition, the US food company’s smallest – but fastest-growing – division.
CFO Art Winkleblack said Heinz was looking for more “bolt-on” acquisitions, just weeks after the company announced its first move into Brazil, with the purchase of a majority stake in Quero, a local tomato products maker.
However, speaking to analysts at the Consumer Analyst Group Europe (CAGE) conference in London yesterday (28 March), Winkleblack was pressed on Heinz’s acquisition strategy for its infant nutrition business, the smallest of the company’s three divisions.
The ketchup maker makes around 11% of its annual sales from infant nutrition, based on its figures from its 2009/10 fiscal year.
In comparison, Heinz’s ketchup and sauces sales account for 42% of turnover, while its meals and snacks business generates 41% of revenue.
Winkleblack said Heinz would consider any type of deal in infant nutrition but suggested that smaller acquisitions would be more likely.
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“Our sweet-spot is bolt-on acquisitions,” Winkleblack said. “We are also very willing to look at large ones but [those deals] would have to make a lot of sense.”
Winkleblack also distanced the company from a possible bid for US infant-nutrition firm Mead Johnson, a business sometimes linked by analysts to Heinz.
He pointed to Mead Johnson’s presence in developed markets – particularly the US – – as a reason why Heinz would be hesitant to move for the business. In 2002, Heinz’s US baby-food division was among a clutch of assets it sold to Del Monte Foods and Winkleblack said: “The US is not a market in which we are highly interested in re-entering.”
Winkleblack was also pressed on whether Heinz, for all its emphasis on smaller acquisitions, would in fact pursue larger deals, given the current relatively low cost of capital.
However, Winkleblack said Heinz would look to stick to its current strategy and, after almost a decade of streamlining, “would think very hard about adding a fourth leg” to the business.
Addressing CAGE, Heinz also decided to focus on its business in Europe, a region that accounted for 31% of sales in the year to 28 April. In that year, Heinz’s sales in Europe inched up 0.1%. Volumes dipped 0.9% due to falling volumes of UK frozen products and the exit of low-margin products in France.
Dave Moran, CEO of Heinz’s European business, said the company had created a “European agenda”, which involved more innovation, accelerating growth in emerging markets, using the company’s scale across the region and developing its executive team in the market.
“We believe with our new strategy we can do better going forward,” Moran said. “This is a big change for Heinz and a big deal for us.”
As part of its plans, Heinz is set to open an “innovation centre” in the Dutch town of Nijmegen next year. “The top priority for Europe is to improve our innovation capability,” Moran said.