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Sir Kensington’s joins Unilever: ‘This allows us to expand distribution while holding true to our values’

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By Elaine Watson+

Last updated on 22-Apr-2017 at 00:27 GMT2017-04-22T00:27:28Z

Sir Kensington's classic ketchup is made with tomatoes, tomato paste, organic cane sugar, onions, distilled vinegar, water, salt, lime juice concentrate, green bell peppers and allspice
Sir Kensington's classic ketchup is made with tomatoes, tomato paste, organic cane sugar, onions, distilled vinegar, water, salt, lime juice concentrate, green bell peppers and allspice

Unilever has struck a deal to acquire New York-based condiment maker Sir Kensington’s, under which co-founders Mark Ramadan and Scott Norton will continue to run the business from their offices in Manhattan. 

Terms of the deal - which is expected to close in the coming weeks - were not disclosed, although Bloomberg reported  a price of "about $140m" citing "a person familiar with the transaction."

While the overall condiments category is pretty flat, brands such as Sir Kensington’s, Hampton Creek, Chosen Foods and Primal Kitchen have been notching up strong growth as consumers seek out new brands and products, with Sir Kensington’s growing in “double or triple digits every year since we were founded [in 2010],” marketing communications manager Allison Marchesani told FoodNavigator-USA last month.

“We have a very strong brand that’s got a real personality and quirkiness, but we also have exceptional products and a very strong ingredients story.

"The products each have something distinctive about them that makes them stand out, whether it’s the mustard seeds we use, or the aquafaba [an egg substitute made from chickpeas and water] in [egg-free mayo brand] Fabanaise. Our avocado oil mayo has also been one of our top-performing SKUs since we launched it last summer.

“I think people are realizing that condiments are food too, so people that buy grass-fed beef, or hormone free deli meat are also thinking about the quality of the mayo or ketchup they are eating with it.”

'We wanted to make sure that we weren’t going to be swallowed up and de-prioritized '

We have a very strong brand that’s got a real personality and quirkiness, but we also have exceptional products

While Sir Kensington’s has been growing at an explosive rate – and has expanded beyond the natural channel into chains such as Kroger and Wegmans (it’s now in 6,000+ locations) and built a sizeable foodservice business - partnering with a “progressive and purpose-driven” multinational such as Unilever would help the brand reach a wider audience much more quickly, without compromising its values, said co-founder Scott Norton.

“Working with Unilever will allow us to more rapidly expand distribution while holding true to our values as we help define the next generation of good food.”

The quirky brand - which began with ketchup, and has since developed mustard, mayonnaise and the chickpea-based vegan mayo Fabanaise – “aligns perfectly with our global sustainable nutrition strategy, moving us forward on our mission to delight consumers, produce delicious food with less impact on the environment and promote nutritious cooking,” added Matthew McCarthy, VP Foods, Unilever North America.

"When we first met them [Unilever], our business was not for sale. We had planned on running Sir Kensington’s independently for the foreseeable future, not believing our young company was ready to move beyond our stewardship and responsibility. Over the course of the following months, it became clear that their organization was the ideal long-term home for Sir Kensington’s.

As we got to know them, our understanding was confirmed: this company is the real thing, true to their word. It also helped that their storied history began in Victorian England (from which our fabled Sir Kensington hails).  

You have loved our products for the same reason we’re proud to make them: their integrity and charm. Crucially, what was important to us in this decision is that the integrity of our products measured by the quality standards of our ingredients, and the taste of the product, could never be compromised.

We, Mark and Scott, will continue to run the business as founders and leaders of the team for the foreseeable future, extending our responsibility beyond this transaction and ensuring a thoughtful and gradual transition that maintains the integrity of the company and products for generations to come.”

Sir Kensington’s co-founders, Mark Ramadan and Scott Norton

Hellmann's on cage-free, egg-free, organic mayo options

Unilever launched an egg-free mayo in 2016 made from soybean oil, water, sugar, vinegar, salt, modified corn and potato starch, lemon juice concentrate, natural flavor, and the preservative calcium disodium EDTA

Speaking to FoodNavigator-USA earlier this year about how Hellmann’s made the switch to cage-free eggs for its mayo and mayo dressings three years ahead of schedule, marketing director Russell Lilly acknowledged that sales in the overall mayo category were “relatively flat” but said consumers had responded positively to Hellmann's cage-free move in social media channels and increasingly wanted to know where their food came from and how it was produced.

Consumers had also responded “very positively” to Hellmann’s organic, and Carefully Crafted egg-free products, launched in 2016,  he said.

“We still see big opportunities to drive growth in the shelf-stable mayo category as preferences change over time.

More to follow…

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