CORRECTION: Corrects the number of companies within the Hidden Valley salad dressing unit in the 15th paragraph.
Divestitures have been common over the last few years, with Procter & Gamble (PG) , Nestlé (NSRGY) and Unilever (UL) all shedding less profitable lines that don't produce strong growth. "We'll see more carveouts or spinoffs," one industry watcher declared. Another cautioned that tax considerations could complicate some deals. Procter & Gamble, for example, structured several large spinoffs -- including Jif peanut butter, Folgers coffee and Crisco vegetable oil and shortening -- as Reverse Morris Trust deals to avoid large tax bills.
Right now, Kraft Foods Group (KRFT) is at the top of the list of food processors seeking sell the poorly performing parts of its portfolio. People familiar with the situation have previously told The Deal that Kraft's Stove Top stuffing and Shake 'n Bake coatings are likely to go. A.1. Steak Sauce and Grey Poupon Dijon mustard are also likely on the way out.
Kraft had attempted to sell leading cottage cheese brand Breakstone's following the split that created the company and Mondelez International (MDLZ) , but the auction ultimately soured, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Kraft's poor fourth-quarter results may add some urgency to the need to purge. The Northfield, Ill., company said its disappointing numbers -- which prompted it to pull out of the recent Consumer Analyst Group of New York Conference held in Boca Raton, Fla. -- could largely be attributed to its roast and ground coffee and powdered drinks brands, as well as its meals and desserts division.
Other businesses -- cheese, refrigerated meat and snack nuts -- performed well. In fact, industry sources have said that Kraft is likely to keep its namesake cheese products and its refrigerated meat brand Oscar Mayer, along with Planters nuts.
But its macaroni and cheese dinner products, JELL-O gelatin and pudding brand, Cool Whip dessert topping, Jet-Puffed marshmallows, Velveeta cheesy skillets meal kits and Baker's chocolate and baking ingredients could all be just as vulnerable as Stove Top and Shake 'n Bake.
Also up for grabs could be Crystal Light, Kool-Aid and Country Time powdered beverages, and perhaps even its coffee brands Maxwell House, Gevalia and Yuban. Sources said last year that Kraft was unlikely to sell its coffee brands, but recent performance may change the company's thinking.
Mondelez, the Deerfield, Ill.-based food maker from which Kraft was separated, for example, hopes to complete the separation of its coffee business this year, merging it with D.E. Master Blenders 1753 BV to create a newly formed entity named Jacobs Douwe Egberts.
Mondelez will receive about $5 billion in cash and a 49% stake in the coffee joint venture, said Michael Mitchell, a spokesman for the company.
As a result of the coffee deal, Mondelez said at CAGNY that it is now focusing on snack foods. That leaves non-snack units such as its Tang and Clight (distributed throughout Latin America) powdered drinks brands; its Italy-based brands consisting of Royal gelatin, pudding and baking powder and Kraft Sottilette cheese; as well as its Cadbury BournVita drink brand in Nigeria and India; and the Kraft Philadelphia cream cheese brand it owns and distributes in Europe all potentially on the block.
Mitchell tried to tamp down the speculation, noting that Tang is a highly profitable $1 billion-plus brand that is growing in emerging markets. In fact, Mondelez has characterized Tang as one of its "power brands." Mitchell said the company would not comment on whether the business could be divested. Likewise, he said the Kraft Philadelphia cream cheese brand in Europe was also a strong performer.
Mitchell did say that Mondelez is exiting businesses such as its mayonnaise unit in China and its salad dressing unit in Costa Rica, but in general is "happy with its portfolio."
Meanwhile, Clorox (CLX) , the Oakland, Calif.-based consumer products group, used its CAGNY presentation to pitch its plans to expand the home care portions of its business. These lines include Fresh Step kitty litter and Clorox-branded cleaning products.
Left out of the conversation, however, was the company’s Hidden Valley salad dressing unit, which accounts for 9% of its $5.5 billion in sales and is one of three food brands in the portfolio. The others are K.C. Masterpiece and Soy Vay sauces.
Clorox bought Hidden Valley in 1973 from Kenneth Henson for $8 million, according to the Omaha World-Herald, which raises significant tax issues. But Clorox could follow P&G's lead and separate it through a Reverse Morris Trust.
Must Read: Warren Buffett's Top 10 Dividend Stocks
Unilever has already determined that salad dressing does not mix well with home care and personal care brands -- the Anglo-Dutch company sold its Wish-Bone brand to Pinnacle Foods (PF) for $580 million in 2013.
Aileen Zerrudo, a spokeswoman for Clorox, said that the company doesn't "speculate on what [it] may or may not do in the future. What I can tell you is that Hidden Valley is an important part of our portfolio of leading brands and is the No. 1 ranch dressing as well as the No. 1 salad dressing."
Colgate-Palmolive said during its CAGNY presentation that while it is actively looking for acquisitions in the areas of oral care, pet nutrition and personal care, it would not be looking for home care brands. In fact, the company has been in the habit of shedding its home care-related businesses.
Still left in Colgate-Palmolive's home care division are Suavitel fabric conditioner, Palmolive and Dermassage dishwashing detergents, and AJAX, Murphy Oil Soap and Fabuloso household cleaners. The company did not respond to a request for comment.
Jarden, which also did not respond to a request for comment, has a robust consumer products business, but its process solutions division has few synergies with the rest of the group as its customers are industrial in nature.
Process solutions, which received little love during the company's CAGNY presentation, includes products such as custom designed plastic, zinc, electronic, and monofilament products. The division also makes up about 5% of Jarden's $8.3 billion in 2014 net sales. A person familiar with the company previously told The Deal that the company was evaluating the spinoff or sale of some of its businesses.
Must Read: 10 Stocks Billionaire John Paulson Loves