Kraft Spins Off Snacks, Wisely Bucking 2011 Buyout Boom

by Jeff Reeves | August 4, 2011 9:29 am

Kraft Foods (NYSE:KFT[1]) announced a spinoff today, splitting into two separate companies — a global snack food powerhouse and a North American grocery specialist. The Kraft spinoff is meant to keep momentum going now that KFT stock is back to pre-recession levels.

Blue-chip stock Kraft just snatched up British foods giant Cadbury in 2010 with a $18.9 billion acquisition, which makes this move interesting. Because despite hopping on the buyout bandwagon, Kraft has decided that smaller actually is better for the $60 billion company now that the dust has settled.

Why the decision to split up so soon after a big buy? Well, for starters, the snack food market is indeed a different animal than consumer staples that people cook up for dinner. Handi-Snacks (my personal favorite), Oreos and Trident gum are sold at gas stations and vending machines, while Oscar Mayer lunchmeat, Philadelphia cream cheese and Tombstone pizza clearly are sold primarily in grocery stores. The marketing and distribution are very different.

It’s also worth noting that snack food is surging. The business is well over $60 billion in the U.S. and estimated to hit as much as $77 billion by 2015[2], according to industry experts. You can sell only so much bologna, but the variety and style of cookies and candies is limitless.

Finally, the Cadbury deal also was part of Kraft’s bid to get a big foothold in Europe. Obviously, what folks cook up in the kitchen is very much a regional thing, and it’s a bit naïve to think Kraft could become a truly global provider of cupboard staples. Salty and sweet, on the other hand, translate well internationally.

So in short, Kraft now has two very different missions — tap into a fast-growing snack food market in quick-sales locations around the globe, and defend its brand dominance at U.S. grocery stores.

But what makes Kraft most interesting to me is that philosophically, the company has decided it has too many masters to serve and is better off dividing and conquering the foods market instead of remaining the 900-pound gorilla in the room. It’s part of a new and interesting trend on Wall Street to understand that, in some cases, less truly is more.

There have been some big buyouts since 2010 as cash-rich companies swallow battered competitors or make strategic acquisitions. I won’t bore you with a list, but I’ll simply point to Microsoft’s $8.5 billion buyout of Skype in May as the biggest in recent memory. But while the buyout frenzy still has legs, some wise companies appear to be bucking the trend.

One of the recent and most successful spinoffs was the 2009 split between drugmaker Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE:BMY[3]) and its nutritional operations Mead Johnson (NYSE:MJN[4]), which is best known for its Enfamil infant formula. MJN stock has soared 162% since it started trading in 2009, three times better than the broader market. At the same time, BMY stock hasn’t lost a step — it’s one of the best performers in Big Pharma since 2009, blowing away laggards like Merck (NYSE:MRK[5]), Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ[6]) and Eli Lilly (NYSE:LLY[7]).

Most recently, integrated oil giant Marathon Oil (NYSE:MRO[8]) spun off Marathon Petroleum Company (NYSE:MPC[9]) as an independent refiner to separate so-called “upstream” and “downstream” crude oil operations. The move took effect June 30 and MPC stock hit the market a month ago, so the jury still is out on how the spinoff will shake out. But some have estimated the move would boost Marathon’s enterprise value by as much as 27%.

Another integrated oil giant, ConocoPhillips (NYSE:COP[10]), already has announced it will execute a similar spinoff soon — and there’s lots of talk that other Big Oil stocks might follow suit. Rumors also are swirling about government-backed General Motors (NYSE:GM[11]) perhaps spinning off its German subsidiary Opel.

After the buyout binge of the last two years or so, it will be interesting to see which companies choose to get even bigger and which companies decide to get agile and focused.

Kraft clearly wants to be among the latter.

Jeff Reeves is the editor of InvestorPlace.com. As of this writing, he did not own a position in any of the stocks named here. Follow him on Twitter via @JeffReevesIP and become a fan of InvestorPlace on Facebook.

Endnotes:
  1. KFT: http://studio-5.financialcontent.com/investplace/quote?Symbol=KFT
  2. as much as $77 billion by 2015: http://www.foodproductdesign.com/news/2011/06/snack-food-sales-soar-to-77-billion-by-2015.aspx
  3. BMY: http://studio-5.financialcontent.com/investplace/quote?Symbol=BMY
  4. MJN: http://studio-5.financialcontent.com/investplace/quote?Symbol=MJN
  5. MRK: http://studio-5.financialcontent.com/investplace/quote?Symbol=MRK
  6. JNJ: http://studio-5.financialcontent.com/investplace/quote?Symbol=JNJ
  7. LLY: http://studio-5.financialcontent.com/investplace/quote?Symbol=LLY
  8. MRO: http://studio-5.financialcontent.com/investplace/quote?Symbol=MRO
  9. MPC: http://studio-5.financialcontent.com/investplace/quote?Symbol=MPC
  10. COP: http://studio-5.financialcontent.com/investplace/quote?Symbol=COP
  11. GM: http://studio-5.financialcontent.com/investplace/quote?Symbol=GM

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