Unilever has made its first major move into snacking tying up a “cut price” £150m acquisition of snacks brand Graze.
The Anglo-Dutch group’s first deal under new CEO Alan Jope was sealed this week after seeing off competition from Kellogg’s and PepsiCo.
The price tag is around £150m - well below the £300m Graze’s previous owner Carlyle was initially seeking when it hired investment bank Harris Williams to find a buyer in autumn 2017.
It is understood Kellogg’s made a pre-emptive bid to buy Graze in the spring of 2018, ahead of the planned auction, but failed to agree on a fee.
The move marks a shift in strategy for Unilever’s food business, which has previously only had a presence in the snacking segment through licence agreements for brands such as Marmite.
A crucial driver for the deal is Unilever’s desire to add healthier options to its food portfolio, which is currently limited to store cupboard essentials and ice cream.
“Accelerating our presence in healthy foods and out of home is an excellent strategic fit,” said Nitin Paranjpe, president of Unilever’s food & refreshment arm.
Unilever also liked the direct-to-consumer credentials of Graze - which launched in 2008 as a snack box delivery service - and follows its $1bn 2016 acquisition of Dollar Shave Club.
However, a snacking source said “the cut price figure achieved represented quite a comedown” on the initial valuation, which was predicated on a large multiple for the direct-to-consumer nature of the business that was no longer justified.
“Graze is not so much a direct-to-consumer business as a straightforward treats/retail business now,” the source explained.
“Historically it has grown through higher margin direct to consumer sales, but all its recent growth has been via lower-margin supermarket sales. Unilever’s challenge is what it does to balance those two dynamics.”
Sales fell 5.2% to £71.8m in the year to 28 February 2018 while retail sales rose 4.8% to £88m over the same period [Nielsen]. Paranjpe said Unilever looked forward to “leveraging their tech and e-commerce expertise for our wider portfolio”.
Graze CEO Anthony Fletcher added: “Learning from Unilever’s sustainable living plan will become a key driver for the business.
“We look forward to working closely with the team to keep on inventing new healthy snacks, as well as continuing to work to understand the role technology can play in improving the food industry.”