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3G Capital quietly exited its Kraft Heinz investment last year

In Business
April 09, 2024

Can Kraft Heinz manage a comeback?

Brazilian private equity firm 3G Capital quietly sold off its 16.1% stake in Kraft Heinz in the fourth quarter, nearly nine years after masterminding the blockbuster merger of Kraft Foods and Heinz with Warren Buffett.

The sale marks the end of an era for 3G. The firm’s influence over Kraft Heinz had been dwindling in recent years as its number of board seats slipped from three to none by July 2022.

“3G has not been involved in the management of Kraft Heinz, nor have they been on the Board for several years. They had continued to be an investor and were treated as we do any investor,” Kraft Heinz said in a statement to CNBC. “We did learn from their recent filing that 3G exited the Kraft Heinz stock entirely in 2023.”

The company added that Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, its largest shareholder with a 26.8% stake, is a committed long-term owner.

Heinz Kraft ketchup arranged in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, US, on Tuesday, July 25, 2023.

Tiffany Hagler-Geard | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Berkshire and 3G’s doomed romance began on Valentine’s Day in 2013 when the two firms announced they were teaming up to take Heinz private. The merger with Kraft Foods followed two years later.

The new company initially pleased investors with its earnings growth, thanks to its cost-cutting approach favored by 3G. The firm had already found success with that strategy when it created beer giant Anheuser-Busch InBev through a series of megamergers and took Burger King private and revived its sales.

But the packaged food business presented new challenges. Consumers were shifting to eating more fresh food. Plus, retailers’ private-label brands and newcomers touting themselves as a healthier option were stealing Big Food’s shoppers. Kraft Heinz sought to drive inorganic growth through a takeover bid for Unilever, but the Popsicle owner rejected its offer.

Then a disastrous quarter came for Kraft Heinz in 2019. In a single earnings report, the company slashed its dividend, disclosed a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation into its accounting practices and wrote down its brands by $15 billion.

Several months later, Buffett told CNBC that Berkshire and 3G overpaid for Kraft Heinz, buoyed by optimism that its brands were more valuable than they actually were. Still, he stood by both 3G and Kraft Heinz. Other investors blamed 3G’s aggressive cost cutting for the company’s troubles.

To reverse the company’s downward spiral, 3G handpicked the food giant’s new chief executive, an AB InBev veteran, and Kraft Heinz went into turnaround mode. The company announced plans to ramp up its marketing and advertising spending and shift its strategy for making new products. To reduce its exposure to private-label competition, it also sold its cheese business to Lactalis, a French dairy giant, and its Planters nuts brand to Hormel.

In 2021, 3G founding partner Jorge Paulo Lemann stepped down from Kraft Heinz’s board. The following year, fellow founding partner Alexandre Behring left the board. And two months after Behring’s departure, 3G’s final board member, former AB InBev CEO Joao Castro-Neves, also stepped down. Kraft Heinz disclosed his departure in a regulatory filing but no press release — or fanfare — accompanied it.

3G had been periodically trimming its stake in Kraft Heinz since 2018. When it sold 25 million shares in 2019, at the height of the company’s troubles, the stock fell 4% in response to the disclosure. In 2022, it distributed about 7% of Kraft Heinz to investors in its fund, which reportedly included tennis star Roger Federer.

Last year, Kraft Heinz tapped Carlos Abrams-Rivera as its new chief executive. While he’s been with the company since 2020, he’s notably the company’s first CEO without ties to 3G.

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