H.J. Heinz couldn't let it be. The company is in "exclusive negotiations" to sell the Linda McCartney brand of frozen vegetarian meals to Hain Celestial, a Heinz spokesman said. "We saw Hain as a natural fit," said Heinz's Michael Mullen. "If you look at Hain's portfolio, they have high-end meat-free products in their stable both in the U.S. and in Europe." Hain is a $1 billion company whose products include Yves Veggie Cuisine, Ethnic Gourmet, Biomarché and Grains Noirs.
The sale would include Heinz's other England-based frozen meat-free business, as well as a manufacturing plant in Fakenham, England. "Last September we announced … we were looking to focus on three core categories," Mullen said. Those included ketchup and sauces; infant nutrition; and meals and snacks, such as beans. "Frozen, including the Linda McCartney line, was seen as a noncore category, and we decided to review sale options for that business," he said.
At least one factor made Hain an attractive buyer to Heinz. "Hain was looking to acquire the [Linda McCartney] business as a going concern, which was very important to us," Mullen said. He wouldn't comment on earlier reports that Nestlé sought to purchase the McCartney line.
For Melville, N.Y.-based Hain, however, the purchase is aligned with its recent strong move into the European natural food arena. In early May, Hain purchased Heinz's chilled prepared foods business based in Luton, England. "The Luton-based fresh prepared foods operation will provide us with a strong foothold and a full infrastructure in the United Kingdom, from which we can grow operations and product distribution," said Hain President and Chief Executive Irwin Simon in a prepared statement.
Mullen said the sale should be completed by early June but said it was too early (at press time) to release terms of the transaction.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVII/number 6/p. 11