HJ Heinz has downplayed the differences between company management and the two dissident shareholders, Nelson Peltz and his ally Michael F. Weinstein, who were officially elected to the board of directors on Friday (15 September). However, analysts have expressed concern that the additions to the board could cause the US ketchup giant to alter its financial strategy.

"Heinz looks forward to moving ahead collaboratively and constructively with the newly-elected board to enhance shareholder value and accelerate growth," Michael Mullen, Heinz director of global corporate affairs told just-food.

Peltz and Weinstein were two of the five nominees put forward by Peltz's Trian Group in an attempt to gain representation on Heinz's 12-member board.

The bitter proxy battle between the dissident investors and Heinz management saw each side accuse the other of misleading shareholders and supporting fundamentally flawed financial plans. Trian said the board had failed to offer substantial returns to shareholders and called for the food group to take a radical new financial direction. Meanwhile, Heinz said that Trian did not, and could not, represent the interests of all shareholders, criticising the financial strategy put forward by the group and talking up its own plans for growth.

During the contest Heinz said that if Trian's representatives were to be elected it would create and impasse between two separate factions. However, with the election of Peltz and Weinstein the company is now stressing unity and collaboration going forward. 

Following the official announcement of the election results, Standard & Poor's Ratings Service lowered its corporate credit and senior unsecured debt ratings for Heinz to "BBB" from "BBB+". S&P also cut the company's preferred stock rating from "BBB-" to "BB+". According to S&P, the company's outlook is stable.

The downgrade reflects concerns that the confirmed election of Peltz and Weinstein to the board may cause the company to waiver from its current financial strategy.

"While Heinz management has indicated its intention to maintain their current financial policy and operations strategy, we believe management may be faced with pressures from new board members that could result in a weakening of credit measures," S&P said in a statement.

Heinz shares closed slightly down on Friday, dropping to US$41.33 from and open of $41.35.