Unilever agrees to purchase Sir Kengington's, a tiny condiments maker that has won shelf space at Whole Foods and other retailers. Terms of the deal weren't disclosed. Belgium's Verlinvest, a family investment firm, and the founders' friends and family members who invested in the business, will be bought out, giving Unilever full ownership of the New York company. The move comes at a time when consumers are increasingly willing to try out new brands they find at the grocery store, the New York Times has reported.
Sir Kensington's, which makes ketchup, mayonnaise and mustard products that are all non-GMO, also produces Fabanaise, a vegan mayonnaise made from aquafaba, which is the cooking liquid derived from leftover chickpea processing. Sir Kensington's, which was founded in 2010, and other upstart brands that explore new flavors and cleaner labels, might pose a bit of a threat to Unilever's legacy brands like Hellmann's, as consumers are willing to give lesser known brands a chance today. Hellmann's has made efforts to be more on trend, with its recent move to only use cage-free eggs for the mayo and mayo dressing sold in the U.S. At Natural Products Expo West this year, several companies exhibited vegan mayonnaise and specially flavored mayos, which Sir Kensington's already has in its lineup.
Sir Kensington's cofounders Mark Ramadan and Scott Norton will continue in their roles at the company, Unilever said. The acquisition, which is expected to close in the next few weeks, is an example of moves by several Big Food companies, including General Mills, Kellogg and Campbell, to establish venture-capital arms investing in food startups.
But Unilever's position is different because it spurned a $143-billion mega merger offer from Kraft Heinz in late February, and as a result, is under pressure from shareholders to prove it has a strategy in place to "go it alone," the New York Times reported. Unilever, which touted a "strong start" to 2017, is also contemplating the sale of some of the company's food brands that fall under its spreads business. Some Wall Street analysts have speculated that Kraft Heinz may come back to Unilever with an offer for just the food/beverage portfolio, which includes Ben & Jerry's ice cream, Talenti gelato and now—Sir Kensington's.