Could Ackman Stake Lead to Kraft-Mondelez Reunion?

Activist investor thinks snack maker needs to cut costs, grow revenue, or sell to Kraft Heinz

William Ackman Pershing Square Mondelez Kraft

William Ackman

NEW YORK & DEERFIELD, Ill. -- High-profile activist investor William Ackman has taken a $5.5-billion stake in Mondelez International Inc., betting that the maker of Oreo cookies and Ritz crackers will become the biggest target in a wave of consolidation reshaping the food industry, reported The Wall Street Journal.

Ackman’s Pershing Square Capital Management LP revealed its stake, which amounts to about 7.5% including options and forward contracts, in a statement late Wednesday night. The activist believes Mondelez has to grow revenues faster and cut costs significantly, or sell itself to a rival, according to the report, citing people familiar with the matter.

With a $75.6-billion market value, there are few companies that could afford Mondelez. One potential buyer, the people said, could be the newly formed Kraft HeinzCo.

A spokesperson for Kraft Heinz declined to comment.

“We welcome Pershing Square as investors in our company,” a Mondelez spokesperson told the Journal. “We’ll continue to focus on executing our strategy and on delivering value for all our shareholders.”

The investment, one of the biggest ever by an activist, represents what the newspaper called the latest in an "array of dizzying turns" for the snacks company, whose $34 billion in annual sales makes it one of the world’s biggest packaged-food producers. In 2012, Mondelez spun off its former North American grocery brands business into Kraft Foods Group Inc., which itself was gobbled up this year to form Kraft Heinz.

A sale to Kraft Heinz would recombine Mondelez and its former Kraft unit in a remarkable circle of corporate rearrangement. It would reinforce the influence in the industry of private-equity firm 3G Capital Partners LP, which acquired control of Heinz in 2013 and was the architect of the Kraft-Heinz merger that closed last month. 3G also bought Burger King in 2010 and last year merged it with Canada’s Tim Hortons.

Ackman personally invests in 3G funds, but he hasn’t discussed the Mondelez investment with 3G, the people said.

Ackman’s arrival in Mondelez squeezes the food company between two of the heaviest hitters in the field, his Pershing Square LP and Trian Fund Management LP, co-founded by Nelson Peltz.

Peltz has a long history with Mondelez Chief Executive Irene Rosenfeld, having pressed for the Kraft-Mondelez split. Peltz became a Mondelez director in January 2014 as part of a truce after another public campaign, this time for it to cut costs and merge with PepsiCo Inc.’s snacks business. When he joined the board, Peltz dropped the merger push, which both Mondelez and PepsiCo had rebuffed.

Ackman has similar ideas for the Deerfield, Ill.-based snack giant and believes that Mondelez has dominating brands in the high-margin snack business, the people familiar with his investment told the paper.

Peltz has been pushing aggressive cost cuts at Mondelez.

Click here to view the full Wall Street Journal report.