Commentary: Is Now the Time for Kraft Heinz to Make a Play For Mondelez?

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When Berkshire Hathaway and 3G Capital put together Kraft Heinz in 2015, the talk in the street was all about whether adding Mondelez International would be the next step. After all, Mondelez used to be part of Kraft before it was spun-off in 2012.

At the time, Warren Buffett downplayed the idea, noting that the newly formed Kraft Heinz had much to do in order integrate the two companies.

“At Kraft Heinz, we have our work cut out for us for a couple of years,” Buffett told CNBC. “Frankly, most of the food companies sell at prices that it would be very hard for us to make a deal even if we had done all the work needed at Kraft Heinz.”

Is Now the Time?

Here we are a year later and the fate of Mondelez in the rapidly consolidating food industry is still not clear. The company just dropped its proposed takeover of chocolate king Hershey, and the question of whether it’s an acquirer or acquiree is back in play.

As far as size goes, Mondelez has a market cap of roughly $67 billion, as compared to Kraft Heinz’s $109 billion, and combined they would put Kraft Heinz ahead of Unilever, which has a market cap of $143.4 billion, and move it closer to Nestle, which has a market cap of over $246 billion.

Berkshire and 3G Capital

Warren Buffett has clearly been pleased with his dealings with Jorge Paulo Lemann, Alex Behring and Bernardo Hees of 3G Capital. Partnering with 3G has brought a tough, tight-fisted management style that seeks to ring inefficiencies out of large-scale legacy companies, and Berkshire has benefited by gaining equity and putting large chunks of cash to work financing the deals.

Much of Berkshire’s financing takes the form of preferred stock, which has paid high interest rates in a low interest rate world. It’s a deal that Buffett loves, and one that he also used to help shore up companies such as Bank of America, Goldman Sachs and Dow Chemical during the Great Recession.

However, the high interest dominoes have been falling one after another as companies became healthy enough to get cheaper financing.

Similarly, when Berkshire and 3G went in on Kraft Heinz in 2013, Berkshire received $8 billion in preferred shares that paid it $720 million annually. Those shares were redeemed this summer as Kraft Heinz moved to lower its borrowing costs. It was a move that Buffett lamented in his annual letter to shareholders “…will be good news for Kraft Heinz and bad news for Berkshire.”

In addition, Berkshire’s $3 billion in preferred stock in Dow Chemical, which currently pays Berkshire $255 million a year, looks likely to end this year unless the market slumps, keeping the price of Dow Chemical shares below $53.72. .

Now that those deals have been coming to an end, a large chunk of preferred stock from a combined Kraft Heinz and Mondelez merger would be a fitting substitute.

Placing Their Bets

In August 2015, activist investor Bill Ackman took a $5.6 billion stake in Mondelez, a bet that clearly signaled he thought the snack maker would be acquired.

Among the other potential buyers could be Pepsi, which already owns Frito-Lay, and is facing declining sales in the traditional soda business, as consumers look for healthier options.

A Prize Worth Winning?

While a merger of Kraft Heinz and Mondelez has made sense to Wall Street, does it ultimately make sense in the world of consumer preferences in the 21st century?

When Mondelez was spun-off from Kraft, it was supposed to be the more exciting, high-flying of the two companies. However, its stock promptly slumped, and today it’s barely higher than it was five years ago. Many of Mondelez’s brands, which include Triscuit, Ritz, and Chips Ahoy!, reflect the consumer tastes from the 1930s-1960s, and its Oreo cookie goes back even further, first hitting store shelves in 1912. These brands are still popular, but will they be in another fifty years?

So, is Mondelez even a prize worth winning? That depends on whether there are similar savings that can be wrung out of Mondelez as there has been with Kraft and Heinz. If Berkshire and 3G think there are, there could be the next global food giant ready to take the stage.

One thing that is clear, in the 21st century world of food manufacturing and distribution companies, the assumption is that size matters in order to have global reach that can take advantage of growing markets in South America, India and China.

© 2016 David Mazor

Disclosure: David Mazor is a freelance writer focusing on Berkshire Hathaway. The author is long in Berkshire Hathaway, and this article is not a recommendation on whether to buy or sell the stock. The information contained in this article should not be construed as personalized or individualized investment advice. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.