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Tyson enters meat brawl with Hillshire bid

Published: Thursday, May 29, 2014 5:06 p.m. CDT
(Paul Sakuma)
This combo made with file photos shows a package of frozen Tyson Chicken Nuggets, left, and a package of Hillshire Farm sausage, in Palo Alto, Calif. Two days after poultry producer Pilgrimís Pride made a $5.58 billion dollar bid for the maker of Ball Park hot dogs and Jimmy Dean sausages, Tyson Foods Co. on Thursday, May 29, 2014 sweetened the pot with a $6.2 billion offer. The deal sent Hillshire shares up 14 percent in premarket trading. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, File)

NEW YORK – Hillshire Brands is at the center of a barnyard brawl.

Tyson Foods, the largest U.S. meat processor, on Thursday made a $6.2 billion offer for the maker of Jimmy Dean sausages and Ball Park hot dogs, becoming the fourth party in what was already a three-way acquisition drama.

Tyson’s offer comes two days after poultry producer Pilgrim’s Pride made an unsolicited $5.58 billion bid for Hillshire. Pilgrim’s Pride is majority-owned by Brazilian meat giant JBS.

The takeover bids for Hillshire are driven by the higher profitability of brand-name processed products like Jimmy Dean breakfast sandwiches compared with fresh meat like chicken breasts.

Both offers are contingent on Hillshire scrapping its plan to acquire Pinnacle Foods, which makes Birds Eye frozen vegetables and Wish-Bone salad dressings, for $4.23 billion. Hillshire, which has been struggling with weak sales, said the move would help it grow in other areas of the supermarket.

Hillshire said earlier it strongly believes in its deal with Pinnacle Foods but was reviewing Pilgrim’s offer. The Chicago-based company said Thursday it would review Tyson’s offer as well, but made no mention of its Pinnacle deal. Pilgrim’s Pride said it is considering its options and will “update the markets in due course.”

In a note earlier this week, J.P. Morgan analyst Ken Goldman had noted that other potential suitors for Hillshire could emerge, including Tyson and Cargill. Goldman suspended his ratings for Hillshire and Tyson on Thursday because of J.P. Morgan’s role in the deal on behalf of Tyson.

Tyson and other meat producers are facing changing consumer tastes and volatile meat prices. In its most recent quarter, Tyson’s net income more than doubled, benefiting from strong demand for chicken and higher prices for beef and pork. But earnings fell short of expectations, due in part to higher costs.

The move by Tyson could be a defensive one to prevent rival JBS from becoming an even bigger player.

Tyson’s offer is $50 per share. That’s $5 per share higher than Pilgrim’s Pride offer earlier this week. Hillshire has about 124 million shares outstanding, according to SEC filings. Tyson values the deal at $6.8 billion, including debt.

Tyson’s offer is a 35 percent premium to Hillshire’s closing price May 9, the day before Hillshire announced its bid for Pinnacle.

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