Sard helps Hillshire with comms for $4.2bn Pinnacle deal

Sard Verbinnen & Co. is supporting Hillshire Brands on communications for its $4.2 billion acquisition of Pinnacle Foods.

NEW YORK: Sard Verbinnen & Co. is supporting Hillshire Brands on communications for its $4.2 billion acquisition of Pinnacle Foods.

The deal, announced Monday, would bring together Hillshire’s brands, such as Jimmy Dean, Sara Lee, and Hillshire Farms with Parsippany, New Jersey-based Pinnacle’s products, which include Mrs. Butterworth’s, Duncan Hines, Aunt Jemima, and Hungry Man.

Hillshire CEO Sean Connolly would serve as president and CEO of the merged company, which would operate under the Hillshire Brands name.

Sard has been working with Hillshire on a project basis, confirmed Mike Cummins, Hillshire’s director of corporate communications.

Meanwhile, Pinnacle’s internal media relations team is handling communications for the deal.

The company has not hired an external PR firm for the acquisition, confirmed Thuy-An Wilkins, Pinnacle’s senior manager of external comms.

"Everything was communicated to our employees through a town hall meeting [Monday] morning," said Wilkins.

In its communications with stakeholders, Hillshire is emphasizing the benefits of the deal.

"The combination of the companies’ complementary portfolios of products should allow for growth on both sides," said Cummins. "This deal extends [Hillshire’s] presence in the frozen category."

Hillshire’s outreach has included press releases and a series of business media interviews. On Tuesday, the company is focusing on broadcast networks such as CNBC, Cummins added.

Internally, Hillshire hosted a call with leaders, as well as a broader all-employee call.

In terms of layoffs resulting from the acquisition, or a restructuring of the companies’ communications departments, Cummins said it is too soon to tell.

"At this point, we don’t have anything to announce about layoffs or restructuring," he said. "It is day one, and the deal is closing in a few months; we have a lot of work to do just to get to the close, and that is what we are focused on."

The deal is expected to close by September, the companies said in a statement, adding that Hillshire expects to save about $140 million in annual costs by the third year of the merger.

Hillshire’s financial advisers for the deal include Centerview Partners and Goldman Sachs. Pinnacle’s are Bank of America and Blackstone Advisory Partners.

A representative from Sard Verbinnen was not immediately available to comment.

The Pinnacle acquisition would be Hillshire’s third deal in the past year. Last month, the company bought Van’s Natural Foods for roughly $165 million after acquiring Golden Island jerky for $35 million in September.

Last August, Pinnacle, which is being sold approximately one year after Blackstone Group took it public, bought Unilever’s Wish-Bone salad dressing for $580 million.

In Hillshire’s earnings for the third quarter of its 2014 fiscal year, ending March 29, the company reported that net sales increased 3.4% to $955 million. Operating income was up 18.3% to $76 million.

Pinnacle reported that net sales for the fourth quarter of last year edged up 0.6% to $709.3 million compared with the year prior.

In 2012, Sara Lee split into two companies: Hillshire and coffee and tea business DE Master Blenders 1753. Master Blenders is in the process of acquiring Mondelez International’s coffee unit.

Abernathy MacGregor is working on PR for the deal in the US, Paris-based Havas is managing communications in France, and Hill+Knowlton Strategies is helping with PR through the rest of Europe.

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