Food Companies Are Popular Snacks for Private Equity Firms

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Private Equity firms have had a healthy appetite for food companies this month, filling their carts with targets in the space. Greenwich, Conn.-based buyout firm North Castle Partners LLC said last week that it would acquire organic baby food producer Sprout Organic Foods Inc. The firm said the investment in Sprout Organic Foods represented its fourth investment in the natural organic and nutrition sector. North Castle will bring in Rick Klauser as Sprout’s new CEO. Klauser served as the chief marketing and medical sales officer of U.S. infant nutrition products at the unit of Nestle SA formerly known as Gerber, which Nestle bought in April 2007 from Novartis SA for .5 billion. Last week also saw the completion of Onex Corp.’s acquisition of Jack’s Family Restaurants Inc., a regional quick-service restaurant chain with 129 stores in the southeast. In a cross-border deal, New York’s Paine & Partners LLC has purchased Spearhead International Ltd., a U.K. based farming operations concern. Paine & Partners, based in New York, is a private equity firm that focuses on the food and agribusiness markets. The Spearhead transaction is the first investment the firm has made with its 3 million Paine & Partners Fund IV, which is investing exclusively in agribusinesses. Paine said that John Atkin would join Spearhead as its new chairman. Atkin was previously the chief operating officer of Syngenta AG (SYT), the Swiss agribusiness concern that is being pursued by Monsanto Co. (MON), the agribusiness company that has made a billion takeover offer for its Swiss peer. The Deal’s Senior Writer Bob O’Brien singled the food space out as a hot dealmaking area for buyout firms. The Deal’s Senior Reporter Lisa Allen has the details from New York.

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