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Oreo maker Mondelez again targeted for shakeup

Part of "Big Food" companies undergoing transformation.


August 7, 2015
by ASSOCIATED PRESS

NEW YORK — Mondelez, the maker of Oreo cookies may again be the target for a shakeup as “Big Food” companies scramble to transform amid changing tastes.

Activist investor Bill Ackman’s Pershing Square said it took a 7.5% stake in snack maker Mondelez International Inc. that was worth about $5.5 billion. The disclosure comes as Mondelez, which also makes Ritz crackers, Cadbury chocolates and Trident gum, had already been slashing costs to offset weak growth.

Such cost-cutting has become common for major packaged food companies, which are up against shifting tastes that favour foods marketed as fresher or more natural. To appease investors, companies including Campbell Soup, Coca-Cola, General Mills, Kellogg and PepsiCo have said they would trim costs and free up more money for marketing, which is intended to drive up sales of their flagship brands.

The struggles have also led a flurry of corporate restructuring and deal-making that is reshaping the industry. That has included acquisitions of smaller, faster-growing companies, as well as consolidation among big players intended to further reduce costs by combining functions like manufacturing and distribution.

In March, H.J. Heinz Co. said it would buy Kraft Foods and create one of the world’s largest food and beverage companies. The early plans outlined by executives focused on the savings the deal would achieve, rather than the potential for sales growth. Heinz’ owners, Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway and the Brazilian investment firm 3G Capital, engineered the deal.

That tie-up came after Mondelez had split from Kraft Foods in late 2012, a move that was intended to allow each company to work with a more focused portfolio of brands. Mondelez took the snacks that had global growth potential, while Kraft Foods held onto North America grocery brands like Jell-O and Oscar Mayer.

Ackman’s Pershing Square Capital Management LP it owns 5.5 million shares and options covering 114.8 million more shares of Mondelez. He hasn’t yet specified what, if anything, he intends to urge the maker of Oreo cookies and Cadbury chocolate to do, but the stake raised the possibility of further deal-making among big packaged food makers.

“We suspect Mr. Ackman’s primary goal is to have Mondelez sold,” J.P. Morgan analyst Ken Goldman wrote in a note to investors.

In a regulatory filing Aug. 6, Pershing Square said it thinks Mondelez’s stock is undervalued, and that it intends to “engage in discussions” with the company on matters such as its strategic plans, which include “potential mergers, acquisitions, divestitures, or a sale” of the company.

A representative for Mondelez, Valerie Moens, said the company welcomes Pershing Square as an investor.

“We’ll continue to focus on executing our strategy and on delivering value for all shareholders,” she said in an emailed statement.

Representatives for Kraft Heinz and Pershing Square declined to comment. Ackman’s stake in Mondelez was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

Ackman is not the only activist investor with a stake in Mondelez. Nelson Peltz’s Trian Fund Management LP holds a 3.1% stake in the company, according to FactSet. Peltz is a Mondelez board member.

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