Wed, Apr 24, 2019 - Page 10 News List

Kraft Heinz picks new CEO after prolonged slump

‘FRESH EYES’:Longtime Anheuser-Busch InBev executive Miguel Patricio is to replace Bernardo Hees, who oversaw the failed Unilever bid in 2017


Kraft Heinz Co is bringing in a new chief executive officer as it looks to break out of a prolonged slump that has hampered the company since its bid to buy Unilever fell apart more than two years ago.

The company is tapping longtime Anheuser-Busch InBev executive Miguel Patricio to replace Bernardo Hees, who has led Kraft Heinz since the company was created in a 2015 merger orchestrated by Warren Buffett and 3G Capital.

Patricio served for several years as chief marketing officer at Anheuser-Busch, which counts the private equity firm’s founders as some of its biggest shareholders.

Outgoing chief Hees has been on shaky footing since February 2017, when Kraft Heinz made a blockbuster bid to buy Unilever for US$143 billion.

The talks leaked and the deal fell apart — since then, Kraft Heinz’s shares have been hammered, wiping out more than US$70 billion in market value.

Patricio, 52, has been based in New York, but is to relocate to Chicago as he joins Kraft Heinz, which makes a host of products, including Oscar Mayer hot dogs and Heinz ketchup.

He is to officially take the reins on July 1, giving him more than two months to develop a strategy as he transitions from beer to the food industry.

“I bring fresh eyes to the business,” he said in an interview. “It’s a big opportunity.”

Kraft’s shares on Monday gained on the news, jumping as much as 2.5 percent to US$33.78 for the biggest intraday gain in a month. The shares had slipped 23 percent this year through Friday’s close, compared with the 16 percent gain in the S&P 500 Index.

3G’s managers are known more for cost-cutting than nurturing brands, and after merging H.J. Heinz and Kraft Foods, Hees led the effort to slash nearly US$2 billion in expenses at the combined company.

That included shedding thousands of jobs and shutting factories, as profit margins grew and the company’s shares surged north of US$90.

However, without an acquisition that would have allowed the signature cost-cutting to continue, the spotlight turned to the company’s struggle to grow sales with a portfolio of brands that is considered out-of-step with modern tastes, particularly in the US.

The slump became even more pronounced earlier this year, when the company took a US$15.4 billion writedown on the value of some of its brands, and Buffett acknowledged that they had overpaid for Kraft back in 2015.

“We are not surprised by the management change given the disappointing earnings exiting 2018, weak 2019 outlook, dividend cut, SEC investigation and massive impairment charge,” Stifel Nicolaus & Co analyst Christopher Growe wrote in a note.

He maintained his hold rating on the stock, saying: “We do not foresee this CEO change as likely leading to any further changes to the company’s outlook for this year.”

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