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May 17, 2024

Breakingviews: Oscar Mayer offers peek at how M&A sausage is made

by Breakingviews.

Being an Oscar Mayer wiener no longer guarantees love, as the storied brand’s long-running jingle professed. Multiple owners attest to just how fickle consumers, CEOs and shareholders can be. As Kraft Heinz explores a sale of the hot-dog, bacon and bologna maker, it offers a glimpse into changing financial tastes.

The U.S.-based food giant hired advisers to help it consider offloading Oscar Mayer, according to the Wall Street Journal. It’s a sensible decision after $44 billion Kraft Heinz told investors earlier this year it was relegating the business to a lower shelf of no-growth, low profitability items to focus instead on stronger fare like Heinz sauces and Philadelphia spreads.

There was a time when processed meat was an inventive and more popular cuisine. Oscar Mayer and his brothers co-founded the eponymous company in 1883 and kept it independent for nearly a century before the sprawling General Foods paid almost $500 million to add it to its pantry. A few years later, as conglomerates made a comeback, cigarette peddler Philip Morris swallowed up General Foods for about $6 billion and later Kraft, too, as it sought to diversify away from tobacco.

Corporate winds eventually shifted again and housing Marlboros and Velveeta under one roof made less sense. Philip Morris spun off Kraft, which led to yet another Kraft carve-up. Then along came Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway with Brazilian buyout shop 3G Capital to make an $80 billion bologna and ketchup sandwich. It was as unappealing as such a combo sounds, and in 2019 Kraft Heinz wrote down some $15 billion of assets.

Kraft Heinz shares have tumbled by half over a decade while those of peers Mondelez International and Unilever are up, respectively, by about a third and a half. It’s why boss Carlos Abrams-Rivera is trying to figure out how to turbocharge some brands and possibly jettison others.

Oscar Mayer generated an estimated $3.5 billion of net sales last year and about a 14% EBITDA margin, according to Jefferies analysts. Put those $500 million of earnings on roughly the same 9 times multiple at which Conagra Brands trades and the division would be worth about $4.5 billion. Other sluggish food companies might see a way to slash more costs, but private equity firms also have stockpiles of cash to deploy. Larding Oscar Mayer with debt equivalent to about 4 times EBITDA to fund half a buyout should make it possible for yet another owner to bring home some bacon.

Context News

 

Kraft Heinz is exploring a sale of hot-dog, bacon and bologna maker Oscar Mayer, which could be acquired for between $3 billion and $5 billion, the Wall Street Journal reported on May 13, citing unnamed sources. Bank of America and Centerview Partners are advising the parent company on the potential transaction, the newspaper added.

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