Billionaire Warren Buffett is dipping into the ketchup business as part of a $23.3 billion deal to buy H.J. Heinz Co., uniting a legend of American investing with a mainstay of grocery store shelves.
It’s the largest deal ever in the food industry and is intended to help Heinz accelerate its transformation into a global business. The company, based in Pittsburgh, also makes Classico pasta sauces, Ore-Ida potatoes and Smart Ones frozen meals.
Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway and its partner on the deal — 3G Capital, the investment firm that bought Burger King in 2010 — say Heinz will remain headquartered in Pittsburgh.
Heinz CEO William Johnson said at a news conference that taking the company private would give Heinz the flexibility to make decisions more quickly, without the burden of having to report quarterly earnings.
Heinz was founded by Henry John Heinz and his neighbor L. Clarence Noble in 1869. Their first product was grated horseradish, bottled in a clear glass to showcase its purity. The first ketchup was introduced in 1876; the company says it was the country’s first commercial grade ketchup.
Last year, Heinz had sales of $11.6 billion, with ketchup and sauces accounting for just under half of that. Given the saturated North American market, it has increasingly been looking overseas for growth. In 2010, for example, the company bought Foodstar, which makes products in China. Heinz expects emerging markets to account for a quarter of the company’s sales this year.