Hershey, Campbell Soup Bulk Up on Snacks -- Update

By FeaturesDow Jones Newswires

Campbell Soup Co. and Hershey Co. plan to buy smaller, higher-growth snack companies in the biggest efforts yet to broaden their cupboards well beyond soup and candy.

Campbell said it would acquire Snyder's-Lance Inc. for $6.1 billion, including debt, the largest deal in the company's history. Hershey said it would buy Amplify Snack Brands Inc. in a deal valued at $1.6 billion, including debt. It's Hershey's largest deal also.

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Campbell and Hershey, iconic American mainstays, are under growing pressure from consumers looking for healthier options as well as more portable, convenient alternatives to cooking. The two food giants have taken steps in recent years through acquisitions and product launches to reinvent themselves. Peers such as General Mills Inc. and Kraft Heinz Co. have also felt the impact of families swapping full meals for snacks and replacing shelf-stable, packaged food with fresher alternatives.

U.S. snack sales rose to $89 billion last year, growing at a compound average of 3% annually over the prior three years, according to market research firm IRI. That makes it a rare bright spot in an otherwise bleak market for packaged food.

Campbell Chief Executive Denise Morrison said there is "a fundamental change in consumer behavior...the lines between snacks and meals are blurring." She said Campbell will now make everything "from soup to nuts, " with 46% of its sales coming from snacks after the deal, and just over a quarter from soup. Reaching that tipping point, she said, would further insulate the company from the depressed trends in soup and its other meal-oriented brands like SpaghettiOs.

Campbell initially approached Snyder's-Lance with an offer last summer. From 2012 to 2016, Snyder's-Lance's sales rose at a compound average of 11.5% a year, while Campbell, which already owns snack brands like Goldfish crackers and Pepperidge Farm cookies, has posted declines in net sales the past three fiscal years.

During Ms. Morrison's tenure as chief, Campbell has bought other trendy, health-focused brands like Bolthouse Farms carrots and refrigerated juices and Plum Organics baby food. Earlier this month, it completed its acquisition of Pacific Foods, a maker of organic soup and other meals. But the purchase of Snyder's-Lance's Hanover pretzels and Kettle chips highlights its intention to focus on snacking, as well as fresh and organic foods.

Hershey Chief Michele Buck, who stepped into the role in March, said Monday's announced deal shows the 100-year-old company's "seriousness and intent" of becoming a broader snacking company. The addition of SkinnyPop popcorn and other savory snacks to Hershey's past purchases of Krave jerky and BarkTHINS gives the company a strong foothold in the snacking sector, she said in an interview. Hershey said SkinnyPop had double-digit percentage sales growth in recent years.

Both Campbell and Hershey said these deals will also allow them to save money by combining some operations.

Industry analysts say a need for growth, coupled with newfound clarity on corporate taxes, are likely to spur more mergers and acquisitions by big food companies in the coming year.

In recent months, Kellogg Co. said it would pay $600 million for RXBar, which makes protein bars using simple ingredients. M&M's candy maker Mars Inc. made a minority investment in KIND LLC, whose fruit-and-nut bars have stolen sales from candy at store checkout lanes. And Conagra Brands Inc. paid $250 million for the maker of Angie's Boomchickapop flavored popcorn.

Write to Annie Gasparro at annie.gasparro@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

December 18, 2017 14:04 ET (19:04 GMT)