Top 100 Food and Beverage Companies for 2012: Splitting in Two

When it comes to our annual ranking of the 100 largest food and beverage companies in the U.S. and Canada, 2011 was a tougher year for profitability than 2010 was.

By Dave Fusaro, Editor in Chief

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Ralcorp was forced into it. With ConAgra waging a semi-public campaign through most of 2011 to buy the company, because of ConAgra's burgeoning interest in private label, Ralcorp responded by rewarding shareholders and diluting its own worth. This past February, it spun off to stockholders its Post Cereals business, which it had bought from Kraft in 2008. That makes Ralcorp again an overwhelmingly private label company. (Since the Post spinoff was a 2012 event, Post's sales remain in Ralcorp's figures in this year's table.)

Then came Sara Lee. It too had become a curiously diversified holding company, balancing its namesake and Jimmy Dean brands against Kiwi shoe polish and Hanes underwear. It started its refocusing in 2005, selling off one extraneous product line after another. Billion-dollar divestitures included its global body care and European detergents business to Unilever in 2009 and its North American bakery unit to Grupo Bimbo in late 2010.

But last year company officials announced they were splitting the remainder of the company into two publicly traded companies. North American food operations – primarily Jimmy Dean, Ball Park and Hillshire Farm brands – on June 28 became Hillshire Brands, soon to be headquartered in Chicago. Several European coffee brands (including Douwe Egberts) became D.E Master Blenders 1753, based in Amsterdam.

Next up: Kraft. The company just set Oct. 1 for its split into a $16 billion North American grocery business and a $32 billion global snacks business. The name of the former will be Kraft Foods Group Inc.; Mondelez International Inc. will be the latter. (A company statement said newly coined word combines the Latin word for world (monde) with "a fanciful expression of delicious" ("delez").

And now Dole is hinting that it might sell off its canning and processed food operations and maybe its small vegetables business to become a purely fresh fruit company. As a result of its slumping stock price this year, Dole now has more debt than its current market valuation, reports Bloomberg News. Ironically, the company's packaged foods unit has been growing fastest, while the fresh fruit business has been hampered by low prices.

Only one of those splits shows up on this year's Top 100© table. While all the figures are the most recently available, that still means full-year results from calendar 2011 for most of these companies. Beam Inc. is the exception. Despite a late-2011 split from Fortune Brands, the spirits company published its own 2011 annual report.

Another newbie, debuting at No. 94, is Agro-Farma Inc., better known as Chobani. Everyone knows the meteoric growth of Greek yogurt. Agro-Farma, being a pioneer, saw its sales make it onto our chart for the first time. Our $700 million figure for the company is just an estimate, based on public documents; Agro-Farma officials declined our requests for information.

On the other hand, Hearthside Foods (No. 89) asked us to right a wrong. As a private labeler and contract manufacturer, the Downers Grove, Ill.-based company likes keeping a low profile, but officials volunteered their qualifications for the Top 100©.

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