Unilever's (UL) Ragu brand is attracting interest from Hormel Foods (HRL) and J.M. Smucker (SJM), Bloomberg reports, with Pinnacle Foods (PF), Hillshire Brands (HSH), Post Holdings (POST) and Japanese grocery supplier Mizkan also eying the pasta sauce.
First round bids for Ragu, which could bring in up to $2B, are due in at the end of this week.
The auction adds to Unilever's sale of other famous food brands such as Skippy peanut butter last year. Ragu makes up 40% of the company's pasta-sauce sales of $1.2B and is the U.S. market leader, but revenue has fallen 18% since 2009.
Fresh food purchases at grocery stores continue to show higher growth rates than canned, packaged, and frozen food sales, and now account for 30% of all supermarket revenue..
Organic sellers like Whole Foods Market (WFM -2.8%) account for some of the extra sales, but retail giants such as Wal-Mart (WMT -0.6%), Kroger (KR -0.7%), and Target (TGT -1.6%) are also broadening out their fresh food sections.
Despite lagging the S&P 500, food stocks had a strong year in 2013. We believe investors should remain selective in their allocation of capital by placing a greater emphasis on stock picking.
Overall, in terms of themes for our packaged food/beverage coverage universe in 2014, we expect sluggish but gradually improving food volume trends, increased promotional intensity (funded by easing commodity costs and retailers fighting for traffic share) and a relatively active M&A environment.
Accordingly, we prefer companies with solid organic growth prospects [Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (GMCR); Amira Nature Foods (ANFI); J & J Snack Foods Corp. (JJSF)], exposure to declining commodity costs [GMCR; Hormel Foods (HRL); The J.M. Smucker Company (SJM); Flowers Foods, Inc. (FLO)], exposure to company specific margin enhancing opportunities [FLO; GMCR, ConAgra Foods (CAG)] and ability to benefit from accretive M&A (SJM, JJSF and CAG).
On the non-branded part of our coverage universe, Ingredion (INGR) is our top pick followed by Tyson Foods (TSN) and Dean Foods (DF).