Natural Foods Merchandiser

Hain purchasing Linda McCartney brand

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.

The sale would include Heinz's other England-based frozen meat-free business, as well as a manufacturing plant in Fakenham, England.

For Melville, N.Y.-based Hain, 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.

Scott Van Winkle, managing director of equity research at Canaccord Adams, said several factors probably are behind Hain's aggressive push into Europe. "They like being tied to Whole Foods Market, and it's about to open its first large-format store in the U.K," he said. Van Winkle also said a company like Hain is likely to get more bang for its buck there. "There are better valuations for acquisitions in the European market, and the penetration of organic foods is higher in Europe."

"We saw Hain as a natural fit," said Heinz spokesman 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.

At least one other 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.

Mullen said the sale should be completed by early June but said it was too early to release terms of the transaction.

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