NEW YORK (The Deal) -- Tyson Foods (TSN) absorbed some searing criticism last June when it acquired Hillshire Brands for what seemed like an extremely rich $8.46 billion.

In fact, the bidder against which Tyson publicly competed, Greeley, Colo.-based Pilgrim's Pride (PPC), earned praise for being disciplined when it walked away from the pricey auction of the refrigerated meats and prepared-foods business.

Yes, the multiple is well above the 14-times EBITDA that Brazilian private-equity firm 3G Capital and Omaha, Neb.-based Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A) paid for H.J. Heinz in 2013 in a blockbuster $28 billion deal. But it is much less than the eye-popping 23 times EBITDA that Heinz, now a portfolio company of 3G Capital and Berkshire Hathaway, appears to have recently paid for Kraft Foods Group (KRFT) in that $55 billion cash and stock deal.

Moreover, these multiples are for mature, value-oriented, branded food businesses. For growth companies in the food industry, particularly organic and natural-food makers, valuations have rocketed beyond multiples of EBITDA to multiples of revenue.

For example, Deerfield, Ill.-based Mondelez International (MDLZ) acquired Enjoy Life Natural Brands, based in Schiller Park, Ill., for several times its roughly $40 million in revenue, according to an industry source.

And Hershey (HSY), based in Hershey, Pa., acquired gourmet meat snacks company Krave Pure Foods for $315 million, which was about 9 times its $35 million in revenue, according to an industry executive.

A May 5 report issued by Gimme Credit analyst Dave Novosel, noted that Tyson has already achieved $70 million in annual synergies from the deal.

That encouraged the poultry producer to increase its target for total synergies to $250 million from $225 million for the full year. By 2017, Tyson hopes to generate $600 million in annual synergies.

Although the buyer is cutting costs, its margins are improving with the addition of Hillshire, Novosel wrote, citing margins of close to 5.5%, near historic highs.

And while Tyson is spending a great deal on working capital, he estimates that the company has already paid down $540 million in debt during the first half this year and will have $1 billion in free cash flow for the entire year, which it can use to reduce its debt even further.

Novosel thinks that Tyson's debt-to-EBITDA ratio by the end of the year will be cut to 2.4 times from 3.

With Hillshire having an immediate impact on Tyson's financial performance, the combined company may even be undervalued compared with its food industry peers.

With a market capitalization of $17.62 billion, cash and cash equivalents of about $220 million and debt of about $7.67 billion, Tyson has an enterprise value of nearly $25.1 billion.

That is a multiple of just 7.9 times the nearly $3.17 billion in adjusted EBITDA that the company is estimated to generate for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, according to data provided by Bloomberg.

Check out the numbers for, say, Omaha, Neb.-based ConAgra Foods' (CAG).

ConAgra Foods has an enterprise value of $24.86 billion, a multiple of 11.3 times the close to $2.2 billion in adjusted EBITDA that the company is estimated to generate for the fiscal year ending on May 31, according to data provided by Bloomberg.

Or look at Austin, Minn.-based Hormel Foods' (HRL).

Hormel Foods has an enterprise value of $14.88 billion, a multiple of 12.4 times the approximately $1.2 billion in adjusted EBITDA that the company is estimated to generate for the fiscal year ending on Oct. 31, according to data provided by Bloomberg.

So it looks like got a bargain when it bought Hillshire. And now Tyson may be a bargain for investors.

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