Selling off food assets seems to be all the rage these days after Reckitt Benckiser this week joined Unilever in attempting to dispose of a multibillion-pound food business.
Reckitt confirmed on Monday it had launched a strategic review of its food business, which primarily consists of the French’s mustard brand and Frank’s Red Hot sauces. It pledged to “explore all options for this great business”, which it labelled as non-core, with observers expecting it to launch a £2bn-plus auction to help pay for the £14.3bn takeover of babyfood maker Mead Johnson.
Unlike Unilever’s spreads division, Reckitt’s food business is in growth after recording a 5% rise in like-for-like sales in 2016 to £411m - albeit margins slipped 50 basis points to 28.7% during the period. Most market observers picked Kraft Heinz as the most likely suitor, but analysts at Barclays also linked McCormick, ConAgra Foods and Pinnacle Foods. Unilever CEO Paul Polman also admitted it was weighing up a bid.
Analysts at Société Générale commented: “Both RB and Mead will likely have a challenging first half of 2017. However, we expect trading at RB to improve sharply in the second quarter.”
Reckitt shares initially rose by about 0.5% on Monday morning as investors absorbed the news, but fell back through the day to end trading 0.4% down at 7,256p. By Thursday lunchtime the shares were down 1.1% post-announcement to 7,237p.
The listed supermarkets slumped on Tuesday as Kantar and Nielsen data showed a late Easter was holding back sales despite 1.4% industry growth. Morrisons bore the brunt as its growth tailed off in the past 12 weeks, with shares plunging 2.9% to 230.9p. Sainsbury’s slid 2.2% to 257.3p after its 0.7% sale decline, but Tesco escaped the sell-off, with the stock rising 0.1% to 185p, despite sales falling 0.4% in the 12 weeks to 26 March.
Shore Capital noted: “Our central expectation is for a broadly rational trade to persist. So, we expect low level volume growth, which may be harder won as living standards start to plateau.”