General Mills said Friday it's buying a line of pet treats from Tyson Foods for $1.2 billion.
The company is continuing to bet on Americans' growing affection for their pets and desire to pamper and treat them.
Tyson's pet portfolio includes brands like Nudges, Top Chews and True Chews.
It's the second major pet-related acquisition for the Golden Valley-based food maker, which re-entered the market for the first time in 50 years in 2018 when it purchased Blue Buffalo Pet Products Co. for $8 billion.
U.S. pet food is a $35 billion industry with dog treats representing $7 billion of that, said Bethany Quam, president of General Mills' pet segment.
Blue Buffalo has a line of crunchy biscuits and training bites, but Tyson's brands are meat-based dog treats, something General Mills doesn't currently offer.
"We are trying to really get into the humanized side of treats. And these are very, very humanized," Quam said. "It's jerky and grillers and looks very much like things you would eat [as a human]."
General Mills executives debated whether the company should create its own meat chews or acquire existing brands.
This deal came together quickly and it made sense to purchase rather than try to replicate the Tyson products, she said.
About 17 million households use Blue Buffalo products compared with the 4.5 million that buy Tyson's dog treats. There's less than a 10% overlap between those two pools of houses. "We saw just a great match," Quam said.
Since General Mills bought Blue Buffalo, pet food has been a more reliable growth business relative to its traditional packaged foods for people. The pet food segment experienced a 13% increase in sales and 22% gain in operating profit during the first nine months of the company's latest fiscal year, a period that ended in February and is the latest available measure.
"We think the acquisition makes strategic sense as it builds on the Blue portfolio in the high-growth premium, natural pet segment and will make General Mills the number one player in natural pet treats," wrote Laurent Grandet, a food and beverage analyst with Guggenheim Securities LLC.
But the pandemic has also been a boon for General Mills' people foods. Its retail sales skyrocketed last year as consumers hunkered down at home, turning to baking, comfort and convenience in food.
The company — known for foods like Cheerios, Betty Crocker cake mixes and Old El Paso products — was able to pay down debt much more quickly than forecast. This put General Mills in a financial position to take on another acquisition. "I think we are in a really good place to take on opportunity," Quam said.
The Tyson deal, paid for with cash on hand and some short-term borrowing, provides General Mills with an estimated tax benefit of $225 million, making the effective purchase price $975 million.
Tyson Foods' pet snacks business generated more than $240 million in sales during the year ended April 3. General Mills' pet segment, which is currently just the Blue Buffalo brand, raked in nearly $1.7 billion in sales during its 2020 fiscal year.
"Today's announcement reinforces our commitment to using all capital allocation levers ... to drive top-tier shareholder returns over the long term," Jeff Harmening, chief executive at General Mills, said in a statement.
General Mills will get a manufacturing plant in Independence, Iowa, as a part of the deal. Tyson's 300 pet-treats employees, who work at the plant or its corporate headquarters in northwest Arkansas, will have the option of working where they currently live.
General Mills has a sales office in Springdale, Ark., near the global headquarters for Walmart and Tyson Foods.
The deal is expected to close sometime this summer.
General Mills stock closed down 1% Friday and ended a volatile, down week for the broader market virtually flat.