Despite making almost $2 billion in acquisitions in less than three years — including its two biggest deals ever — Hormel Foods Corp. remains on the lookout for takeover targets.
But the competition for alluring brands and companies is getting tougher as packaged food companies look to buy into growth in an era of sagging revenue.
“It would be fair to say that there is more competition for deals,” Hormel CEO Jeffrey Ettinger said in an interview with the Star Tribune.
Traditional packaged food companies are snapping up businesses in fast-growing categories like natural and organic. Hormel’s $775 million play for Applegate Farms is one example, while General Mills’ $820 million purchase last year of macaroni and cheese maker Annie’s is another.
“I would add that there are a lot more private equity players than there were 10 years ago investing in the [food] space,” Ettinger said. “There’s also been a lot more investment by companies outside of the United States in American food properties.”
One of the biggest occurred in 2013 when a Chinese company bought Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork producer.
Hormel has long been an acquirer, and one with a good reputation for integrating companies. But its targets have gotten bigger in recent years. And Hormel has followed a template, trying to fill voids in its business.
“We kind of made an assessment at one point,” Ettinger said, “that if you really looked at our core portfolio, it’s very American, it wasn’t particularly multicultural, it wasn’t particularly health-oriented and we have a lot of items that don’t necessarily lend themselves to today’s on-the-go consumer.”
With its recent deals, Hormel has regularly hit those target areas — except for expanding globally, despite the 2013 Skippy peanut butter acquisition. About $100 million of Skippy’s $350 million in sales are outside the United States, particularly in China.
“But if you go back over the last 10 years, that’s the only one with a non-U.S. component to it,” Ettinger said. Six percent of Hormel’s total sales are international.
Suffice it to say Hormel will be looking hard at future international deals. And the company still has plenty of financial firepower. “They have the most pristine balance sheet balance sheet of any food company I cover,” said Rob Moskow, a stock analyst with Credit Suisse.