Activist Shareholder Steps Up Pressure on Heinz

25 May 2006

Inspired by the lyrics and music of Irving Berlin, interventionist shareholder Nelson Peltz on Tuesday cranked-up his karaoke machine and belted Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better into the ears of the board and management of global foods titan H J Heinz.

Peltz, who owns a 5.4% stake in Heinz via his hedge fund Trian Partners, believes he can teach the company's management a thing or two, claiming Sinatra-style that if they did it My Way, the firm would almost double its market value to $28 billion (€21.8bn; £14.9bn).

In a public document filed this week, Peltz urges Heinz to adopt a series of measures including cost cuts, the sale of non-core assets, and increased marketing spend on its ketchups range.

Still in singalong mode, this time to Mercer and Arlen's That Old Black Magic, Peltz posits a plan to achieve a reduction of $575 million in annual costs, cutting overheads at the company's Pennsylvania headquarters and improving plant efficiency.

Seemingly lacking a song about sauces, Peltz switched to gastronomy, urging: "The company should make it a mission for more people to eat ketchup with their fries and burgers through creative marketing on television, the internet and other outlets."

Claiming this assertion is backed by statistics, Peltz avers that while Heinz's market share in ketchup is high, the size of the overall market could grow, since only 40% of fries, hamburgers and hot dogs are eaten with ketchup (is there a song titled Lies, Damed Lies and Statistics?).

His musical repertoire now exhausted, Peltz is focussing on shoehorning himself and a motley crew of four other nominees onto Heinz' board [WAMN: 08-Mar-06].

Two, Peter May and Edward Garden, are co-directors of Trian; the third is Peltz confidante Michael Weinstein, chairman of Inov8 Beverages, a marketing firm specializing in soft drinks. The fourth is Australian professional golfer Greg Norman, whose business expertise is limited to the design of golf courses and the touting of sportswear bearing his name.

Heinz' response skips musical accompaniment, arguing that "the facts speak for themselves". It points out that over the past four years it has transformed dramatically to improve earnings and enhance shareholder value.

"With a leaner, highly focused portfolio of leading brands in three core categories and more efficient businesses," the company asserts, "Heinz is now in fighting shape to deliver superior shareholder value and growth."

A spectacular finale, musical or otherwise is expected at Heinz' annual meeting August 30.

Data sourced from Financial Times Online; additional content by WARC staff