Hormel's $700 million bet on peanut butter

The company is buying the Skippy brand from Unilever. Hormel sees potential there, but the allergy stigma weighs down sales.

By Jonathan Berr Jan 3, 2013 11:20AM
Image: School lunch (Stockbyte/SuperStock/SuperStock)Hormel (HRL) will buy Skippy peanut butter from Unilever (UN) for $700 million -- about twice the price Wall Street had expected -- adding the iconic brand to its product line-up that includes Spam processed meat and Jennie-O Turkey products.

The deal is not a surprise. Unilever, an Anglo-Dutch conglomerate, has been trimming its portfolio of underperforming brands for months. As Bloomberg News noted in October, Skippy is a distant second to J.M. Smucker's (SJM) Jif in the U.S. peanut butter market. The sources the news service quoted expected the Skippy business to fetch between $300 million and $400 million.

Hormel sees some potential in Skippy and its 14 varieties. The Austin, Minn., company points out that the 80-year-old brand is the leader in the fast-growing category of natural peanut butter. Skippy, with annual sales expected at $370 million, is the top peanut butter brand in China. Peanut butter is a $2 billion market and is the second most popular sandwich ingredient behind ham in the U.S. The product, however, has an image problem.

As any parent with young children knows, there is a rising awareness of the dangers of peanut allergies. Many schools are "peanut-free zones" because some kids are so sensitive that they can't even be in the same room with peanuts. Some sufferers go into shock from even the tiniest exposure. In rare cases, the allergies can be fatal.

One study found that the incidence of peanut allergies doubled in children between 1997 and 2002, according to the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network. Scientists aren't sure why more kids are sensitive to peanuts now than in previous decades. About 20% of children with peanut allergies do outgrow them. 

Wall Street likes the acquisition. Shares of Hormel were up in early trading because the company expects Skippy to be "modestly accretive" in fiscal 2013 and add 13 cents to 17 cents per share the following year.

--Jonathan Berr does not own shares of the listed stocks.  Follow him on Twitter @jdberr.

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Tags: Food
Jan 3, 2013 6:53PM
i hate when my poop comes out like skippy peanut butter !
Jan 3, 2013 6:48PM
Jan 3, 2013 6:47PM
phuck food allergies ,just put the defective children in there own school ,stop punishing the masses for a few with defects in the population !!!!!
Jan 3, 2013 6:36PM
Let's see. Chocolate in peanut butter, jelly mixed in peanut butter, spam and its gelatin mucous surrounding it in peanut butter I don't think so.
Jan 3, 2013 6:35PM
Fried spam (till its crunchy like bacon) on top of steamed rice , two eggs on top of that with some soy sauce.  Heaven on earth for breakfast on weekends!
Jan 3, 2013 6:30PM
Ummmm ... I think I'll go to the kitchen and prepare myself a peanut butter & jelly on toast and a large glass of 2% milk. (better than steak)
Jan 3, 2013 6:28PM

What happened to parental supervsion?

If you are an adult ,with peanut or nut allergies. use the appropriate caution.


It is'nt the manufactures fault.

Jan 3, 2013 6:26PM
PB & JELLY! an American Staple! SKIPPY'S THE BEST!
Jan 3, 2013 6:19PM
The threat of food allergies has been greatly exaggerated
Jan 3, 2013 6:10PM

i likings of the skippy with a side of fried spam

Jan 3, 2013 6:00PM

I agree leave go ol skippy alone!  I am so old I remember when it came in glass jars!  Also, keep it made in America!!  Bad enough my twinkies are gone but don't take away my skippy too!

Jan 3, 2013 5:59PM
Spamippy will be the future product, yum sounds delicious.
Jan 3, 2013 5:55PM
It's just the end of the world as we know it---
Jan 3, 2013 5:54PM

Makes perfect sense, because choosy mom's choose Spam!!!

Jan 3, 2013 5:48PM

I don't recall any kids when I was in school having problems with peanut butter....

They served it in the lunch room and our Mothers used it in our sack lunches...

But something must have changed...and I don't think it was the peanuts...

Jan 3, 2013 5:32PM
You can bet "It's going to be Spam-Skippy" too!  *I couldn't resist*
Jan 3, 2013 5:28PM
jif is the only peanut worth while eating!!!!!
Jan 3, 2013 5:27PM
first the twinkies, now skippy PB, what's next??????????
Jan 3, 2013 5:15PM
Skippy Peanut Butter and Sliced Sweet Pickle Sandwiches are awesome.
Jan 3, 2013 5:14PM
Spam is the favorite food of your president
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