Post Holdings is buying leading British breakfast cereal brand Weetabix from China's Bright Food Group for 1.4 billion pounds, or about $1.8 billion, giving the U.S.-focused company a European base on which to build.
The combination will help Post's existing brands, which include Honey Bunches of Oats and Grape-Nuts, to expand overseas, while allowing for greater distribution of Weetabix and its Barbara's brand in North America, the St. Louis-based company said on Tuesday.
The acquisition of Weetabix's manufacturing and distribution assets in Europe should also allow Post to more easily pursue other overseas businesses that might become available, in cereal and beyond, CEO Rob Vitale said.
"What this does is allow us to look at a broader array of opportunities," Vitale told analysts, noting that Post regularly looks at several M&A opportunities at the same time.
In 2015, Post bought Minnesota-based MOM Brands, known for its bagged Malt-O-Meal cereals, and merged that company with its existing Post cereals. The parent company created a new division called Post Consumer Brands and moved its headquarters to Lakeville. Weetabix will likely fall under this business unit, led by Chief Executive Chris Neugent, who is formerly of MOM Brands.
The company said it will offer more details about its facilities and organizational structure once the deal closes later this summer.
The sale comes just five years after Chinese state-owned Bright Food took control of Weetabix in a deal that valued it at 1.2 billion pounds.
The brand has struggled to grow significantly since as cold cereals in Western markets face more competition from breakfast bars and Greek yogurt, and consumers grow more concerned about how much sugar is in what they eat. Vitale said Weetabix had 2016 revenue of 410 million pounds, which was not that much higher than in 2015.
Looking ahead, he said Weetabix's revenue would remain flat, with earnings being boosted by cost-savings from combining the businesses.
In China, which had been central to Bright Food's purchase, retail sales of cold cereal have nearly doubled over the past five years, but it remains a relatively small category, as most locals prefer a hot breakfast.
"It's probably going to be a much better fit with Post," said Liberum analyst Robert Waldschmidt.
Post has agreed in principle to establish a joint venture with Bright Food and Baring to manage the Weetabix China operations, which remain a very small part of the business.
Vitale said the price was justified by Weetabix's strong market share, future expansion opportunities, Post's ability to fund it in cash and the favorable tax environment in Britain.
Post shares were down 4 percent Tuesday, underperforming the S&P 500 index, which was broadly flat.
For Bright Food, which makes dairy products, candy and other foodstuffs, the sale does not mean an end to its international ambitions, Shanghai-based Bright spokesman Pan Jianjun said.
"This is a part of our internationalization strategy. Selling assets enables us to better expand. Going forward Bright will stick to our overseas push," he said.
The sale would give Bright extra firepower should it want to bid for any other food assets currently on the block.
The global packaged food industry is in the midst of a wave of deal making, with giants Unilever and Reckitt Benckiser both selling multibillion-dollar food assets.
Bright Food took control of Weetabix from private equity firm Lion Capital, which had held its stake for over a decade. Baring Private Equity Asia subsequently bought Lion's remaining stake in 2015.
Post said the deal will immediately add to its adjusted operating profit margins and its free cash flow, excluding one-time transaction expenses.
Staff writer Kristen Leigh Painter contributed to this report.