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Skippy suitors include ConAgra and B&G, says report; but Unilever remains tight-lipped

By Elaine WATSON , 12-Nov-2012
Last updated the 12-Nov-2012 at 15:10 GMT

ConAgra Foods and B&G Foods have both shown interest in Unilever’s peanut butter brand Skippy, according to weekend press reports.

Unilever - which is exploring a possible sale of Skippy in the US and Canada - declined to comment on potential suitors, but Bloomberg News said ConAgra and B&G had both expressed interest, citing three people close to the matter.

Private equity-backed Pinnacle Foods Group had also looked at Skippy - the #2 player in the market behind JM Smucker's Jif brand - in the past, but is not currently courting the brand, Bloomberg reported.

B&G Foods: ‘We are very, very good at executing on acquisitions’

Both B&G and ConAgra have been extremely acquisitive in the past couple of years.

B&G Foods, which recently acquired Culver Specialty Brands from Unilever in a $325m deal, has grown sales from $379m in 2005 to $544m in 2011 through a steady stream of acquisitions.

Speaking at the Barclays Back to School conference in Boston in September , chief executive Dave Wenner said he was in search of shelf-stable brands or groups of brands with “defensible, niche positions” in their categories.

B&G specializes in buying unloved brands from larger players such as Kraft that are unable to give them the attention they deserve, he added.

“We are very, very good at executing on acquisitions...

“What we're faced with typically includes a sales decline of some sort from the previous owner… We are in a lot of cases buying ‘orphan’ brands from larger food companies and then turning them around and not only stopping the sales decline but putting innovation into the brands to generate modest organic growth.”

ConAgra Foods: On the acquisition trail

ConAgra has also made several acquisitions in the past two years, including Unilever’s PF Chang’s and Bertolli brands; Kangaroo Brands’ private label pita chips business; breakfast sandwiches and sausages maker Odom's Tennessee Pride; packaged fruit, veg and snacks maker Del Monte Canada; and private label snack maker National Pretzel Company.

‘An iconic, consumer-loved brand’

In a statement issued in early October, Unilever said: "As part of a recently completed strategic review, we have decided to explore various options for our Skippy business in the U.S. and Canada including, but not limited to, a potential sale of the business.

"The ultimate objective will be to identify the best way forward for Skippy's continued growth and profitability and for it to remain an iconic, consumer-loved brand.”

Analysts expect Skippy could fetch up to $500m.