Change may be afoot at Schwan’s Co., which is reportedly exploring strategic options that could include a potential sale.

Citing anonymous sources, CNBC reported that the Marshall, Minn.-based food company has hired Piper Jaffray to lead the effort. A potential deal could value Schwan’s at more than $2.5 billion.

A spokesman from Schwan’s told the Star Tribune he wouldn’t comment, citing a long-standing policy of not engaging in speculation about the business. Minneapolis-based Piper Jaffray did not respond to inquiries.

Founded in 1953 as a home meal-delivery business, Schwan’s is one of the nation’s largest private companies, with about $3 billion in annual sales. It has roughly $260 million in earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, according to CNBC.

But Schwan’s has faced increased competition from online meal-kit and grocery delivery startups. It also has had to adjust to consumers’ changing preferences for fresh foods and away from Schwan’s stable of frozen entrees.

While Schwan’s gold trucks still deliver meals for as many as 1.35 million active customers, the company has its hands in a number of diverse businesses that might make it attractive to a suitor or easier to siphon off disparate business units.

It owns Red Baron, Freschetta and Tony’s pizza brands as well as Mrs. Smith’s pies and Edwards desserts. In May, Schwan’s picked up two more pizza brands: Better Baked Foods and Drayton Foods.

Updating its image

In August, Schwan’s purchased what it described as a “significant” minority stake in Tru Shrimp Co., in which it will lease a portion of its processing plant in Marshall for indoor shrimp farming.

Schwan’s also operates a food-service business that sells to schools, hospitals and other institutions.

In recent years, the company has made a number of moves to try to update its image, add more fresh offerings and modernize its delivery business, which has suffered from high turnover of drivers and an inability to respond quickly to a generation of tech-savvy consumers who expect action at the flick of a finger.

Schwan’s set up an executive hub in Bloomington to try to attract a wider talent pool and gain easier access to the airport. About 1,300 workers remain in southwestern Minnesota, including its research-and-development team and facility.

The company has invested $10 million to remove artificial colors and flavors and high fructose corn syrup from its products. Its mint chocolate chip ice cream is now tinted with all-natural algae, and Tony’s pizza is topped with real cheese.

 

Star Tribune staff writer Patrick Kennedy contributed to this report.