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The Kraft-Heinz merger & the monopoly on food

By Frank J. Maduri   |   March 26, 2015 at 4:33 PM
The merger between Kraft Foods and H.G. Heinz further consolidates the global food production into the hands of about a half dozen companies. These six multinational powerhouse corporations can exert enormous power over the retail grocery channel, and by extension control the dynamics of a necessary area for all people: the access to food. These corporations represent an emerging monopoly in an area where competition is needed, arguably, more than just about any other industry in the world.

The merger between these two U.S. based food industry giants, each with a collective stable of some of the most revered and iconic branded food product lines in the industry, is just the latest in a wave of M&A activity to strike the industry over the past several years. It is, however, a huge transaction involving stock and a special cash dividend financed by a $10 billion investment by 3G Capital and Berkshire Hathaway, which are the two firms who combined forces to purchase Heinz in 2013 and transition it into a privately held company.

Under the terms of the merger agreement, Heinz will return to being a public traded entity with a 51% ownership stake in Kraft. The owners of Kraft stock will control a 49% portion of the new combined food industry titan. The prognosis for the future is interesting because while the magnitude of this merger transaction will preclude Heinz-Kraft from completing any further brand purchases in the near term; the newly minted company upon completion of the regulatory process will be well positioned to be able to make additional acquisitions of other competing food brands in the future.

Going Rogue

The rise of celiac disease and heightened awareness regarding food allergens combined with the wellness trends in the industry have given windows of opportunity to privately owned companies, especially in the natural foods area, to challenge the large scale food manufacturing companies.

A few examples of this scenario would be Chobani, Food for Life, Nature's Path, and until recently Enjoy Life. The Enjoy Life brands were purchased by Mondelez International (formerly Kraft's snack foods division) in a deal which demonstrates the value of allergen free product lines in the new American consumer consciousness.

These privately owned companies have entered the grocery store channel and competed rather well with the more established players evidenced in Chobani's ability to take market share from yogurt heavyweights Dannon and Yoplait (a General Mills business unit) which is not easy to do given the costs of refrigerated shelf space.

The exponential increase in gluten free food offerings will lead to more food industry consolidation as well as the approach used by General Mills. In order to compete with the smaller companies making high quality gluten free and allergen free products, General Mills launched their own offerings in those areas or rolled out line extensions of existing brands to include a gluten free option for the consumer. This method allows them to compete and capitalize on an emerging food industry trend without having to commit resources to an acquisition which is costly both in terms of time and financially.

Skyrocketing Costs

The skyrocketing costs for staple food products coupled with a shrinking middle class and further food industry consolidation is the formula for a very combustible situation. The average worker also has seen flat wages with little to no cost of living increases factored in, and the increased cost for even basic food items let alone the organic or health food options will lead to a rise in food insecurity. Many regions of the U.S. have already witnessed an increase in the demand for services from food pantries and other forms of assistance.

Moreover, the alarming component of the merger between Kraft and Heinz is the potential for their combined expertise as well as access to capital which will create conditions where these "rogue" privately owned companies will find it increasingly difficult to survive. The acquisition potential for Heinz-Kraft extends even to larger companies which are struggling such as Campbell's Soup Company, ConAgra, and cereal giant Kellogg.

The high costs associated with shelf space in the grocery store channel as well as the fact that the premium space is controlled by the big industry players means that a monopoly is not just likely, it is inevitable. The Federal Trade Commission was concerned decades ago with the Bell Telephone monopoly leading of course to the famous creation of the "baby Bells". More recently the anti-trust movement has been focused on airlines and the energy industry. However, a monopoly when it comes to the access to food products can be a dangerous scenario with far-reaching consequences.

The reliance of the food industry on globally sourced commodity products gives me pause when I realize that six or seven conglomerates will control the supply of finished products available to the masses. This is an area of self-interest for every American, and one in which I think our national, as well as global, discourse will be focused upon in the months ahead.

Frank J. Maduri is a freelance writer and journalist with numerous publishing credits for a variety of websites and news organizations. He has professional background in the food industry on the supply side working with complex transactions involving commodities sourced across the globe.

© 2015 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.

Korea's global development model has lessons for the North and developing world

By Michael Marshall, UPI Editor Emeritus   |   Updated March 19, 2015 at 1:25 PM
KOICA official logo in English. CC image by Korea International Cooperation Agency
WASHINGTON, March 19 (UPI) -- South Korea's growing international development experience will stand it in good stead in any future unification scenario with North Korea, Amb. Young-mok Kim told a Washington D.C. audience recently. Amb. Kim is president of the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) now active in over 100 countries.

He said that the experience in assisting less-developed countries with health, education, and infrastructure projects provided lessons that would prove invaluable in assisting the economically backward North in the future. Per capita GDP in South Korea is 30-40 times greater than that in the North.

KOICA's work in former communist countries such as Laos and Cambodia could prove especially helpful, he said, as they showed North Korea a model for transition. Amb. Kim was speaking at a March forum jointly sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and Global Peace Foundation on "The United States, South Korea and Civil Society Cooperation in Global Humanitarian Development."

Introducing his remarks, Amb. Kim said, "This may be the first time Korea has introduced its work for global development in D.C." He described Korea's dynamic transition from an aid recipient with a per capita GDP in 1953 of $73 to an official donor country. In the fifty years after 1945 Korea received $12 billion in international aid, 44 percent of which came from the U.S. In 2015 Korea is expected to contribute about $2.2 billion to overseas development assistance.

But Korea also learned to help itself, not only through a growing industrial sector in the 1970s but also through the Saemaul Undong or "New Village Movement." This encouraged enterprise and self-reliance in rural communities. It balanced development there with the advances in the urban industrial sector and helped to limit income inequality.

The Korean experience of growth is one that many developing nations are now anxious to learn from. "Many developing nations consider Korea an exemplary model for development," Amb. Kim said. "Over 30 countries are planning to adopt Saemaul Undong," he continued. They are attracted by its focus on grassroots rural community development.

Jon Brause, director of the World Food Program's (WFP) D.C. office, added that Korea's unique development experience, which includes a strong civil society element, is being recognized by other countries. "Korea gives nations the confidence to say 'We can do it too.'" WFP has partnered with KOICA for 51 years. They are currently cooperating to implement Saemaul Undong in several African countries.

Amb. Kim stressed the importance of public and private partnerships for KOICA and for successful development work in general. Although KOICA does not work directly in North Korea it cooperates closely with a number of UN agencies that are active there and helps facilitate their work. KOICA also has close working arrangements on many projects with the U.S. agencies, USAID and the U.S. Peace Corps.

In the private sphere, "KOICA is very keen to seek for innovative partnerships with prestigious global NGOs and foundations that will bring far-reaching impact," he said. Domestically, KOICA has worked with civil society groups for 20 years to leverage resources and experience. It is engaged with 130 civil society partners. In 2013, Korea's non-profit sector raised $3.8 billion to support 1,400 projects in 103 countries.

Such partnerships, public and private, domestic and international, would prove vital, said Amb. Kim, in "helping countries in transition or in transformation to succeed and finally achieve democracy and prosperity."

© 2015 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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