Will Flowers Foods buy Hostess from Metropoulos?

by Josh Sosland
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Quirky marketing has generated great success for Hostess since returning to the market.

NEW YORK — If the private equity owners of Hostess Brands L.L.C. put the snack cake business they acquired in 2013 up for sale, Flowers Foods Inc. will be in the mix of potential buyers, said Allen L. Shiver, president and chief executive officer of Flowers.

Toward the end of a 90-minute investor day presentation to investment analysts, Mr. Shiver said that even as the company remains pleased with its Tastykake business acquired in 2011, Flowers could be interested in owning Hostess. The investor day session, held April 14 at the New York Stock Exchange, featured extensive discussions by Mr. Shiver and Flowers executives about the continued importance of acquisitions to the company, even after the numerous large recent transactions Flowers continues to work to digest.

Mr. Shiver was asked about the merger and acquisition environment in baking and any “near-term opportunities” that may be on the horizon.

He said Flowers was in discussions with independent bakers, adding, “some would fit nicely.” He said Flowers’ balance sheet would accommodate acquisitions.

“Many of you may be aware that the Hostess cake brand will probably be returning to market soon,” Mr. Shiver said. “Like other opportunities we will take a look. At the same time we are excited about our Tastykake brand and progress we are making there. But we look at all opportunities, and we will certainly take a look there as well.”

Mr. Shiver’s brief but direct comments about the Hostess snack cake business follow several months of speculation about the future of Hostess under the ownership of Apollo Global Management L.L.C. and C. Dean Metropoulos & Co. The group acquired the Hostess business in 2013 for $410 million. Press accounts last November said the group had been in touch with financial advisers about a possible sale, predicting a $1.2 billion price tag. A cover story about Hostess in Forbes a day after Mr. Shiver’s comments suggests the business could fetch as much as $2 billion.

Earlier in his presentation, Mr. Shiver described acquisitions as “a key growth strategy” for Flowers. He continued at some length describing the thought process at the company when it looks at takeover candidates.

“When we consider a potential acquisition, our primary filter is operational fit,” he said. “Are the brands relevant? Does the culture fit? Are the facilities appropriate? Where are the opportunities for distribution and manufacturing synergies? We are looking for brands and markets that will benefit from our scale and our experience. We are a disciplined buyer, and we will only proceed if first the operational fit is right and second if the financial terms support our objectives.”

R. Steve Kinsey, executive vice-president and chief financial officer, said acquisitions are an important part of Flowers’ achieving its long-term objectives of 5% to 10% annual sales growth. Organic growth is expected to contribute 3% to 5% per year, and acquisitions are expected to account for the balance, he said.
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