Amazon Inc.'s (AMZN) $13.7 billion industry-transforming acquisition of grocer Whole Foods (WFM) is putting the takeover spotlight on Hain Celestial (HAIN) , the only remaining publicly traded pure-play natural- and organic-food company.
WFM is Hain's largest customer (indirectly), and it's where HAIN sells a variety of organic products, including well-known brands Terra Chips and Celestial Seasonings teas.
"Whole Foods has not been doing that well from a sales perspective," said Amit Sharma, analyst at BMO Capital Markets. "If Amazon can turn that around, it would be a boost to Hain because [Hain] is one of the largest suppliers to Whole Foods."
Akshay Jagdale, analyst at Jefferies, agrees, noting that he thinks the market is missing the potential positive impact on consumption, assuming Amazon is successful in gaining share in the natural- and organic-food space.
However, even more importantly for shareholders is that Hain also has an activist investor at its gate. Engaged Capital's Glenn Welling launched a campaign last week that included the beginnings of a rare change-of-control director election battle at Hain. If successful at taking control of Hain's board - Welling seeks seven of eight director slots -- it is extremely likely that Engaged will seek to bolster sales through investment in promotion at the same time that the insurgent fund seeks to find a buyer for the company or some of its brands.
Welling has already taken a big step towards victory by accumulating a 10% stake -- and his track record suggests that some of Hain's big institutional investors already have his back.
As far as acquisitions go, some traditional packaged food companies could be interested in Hain or some of its brands, as they seek to increase their exposure to organic foods. These include PepsiCo Inc. (PEP) Campbell Soup Co. (CPB) , Hormel Foods Corp. (HRL) , General Mills Inc. (GIS) , Kraft Heinz Co. (KHC) , Nestle SA, and Unilever NV (UN) . A Hain auction would follow France's Danone SA's $12.5 billion acquisition of organic foods company WhiteWave Foods Co.
"It is easy to see why traditional packaged-food companies want to buy organic-food businesses," said Sharma. "Organic natural foods are growing at 8% to 10%, while traditional packaged foods are hardly growing. Conceptually, it makes sense for these companies to want to buy Hain, which could be that growth for them."
Also, consider also that Engaged, based in Newport Beach, Calif., has a mostly successful track record when it comes to organic- and healthy-food companies and M&A. Boulder Brands, which makes Earth Balance and Evol Foods, was sold to Pinnacle Foods in 2015 shortly after Engaged became involved.
Also, Engaged Capital helped negotiate an $85 million investment by Oaktree Capital in October at Canadian natural- and organic-foods processor SunOpta Inc. (STKL) , an investment that helped drive the company's shares up to its recent price of just under $10 a share (from about $6 at the time). Engaged has been successful at driving recent sales of companies in other sectors, including Redbox kiosk maker Outerwall Inc.'s sale to Apollo Global Management for $1.6 billion and medical device maker HeartWare International Inc. purchase by Medtronic plc (MDT) for $1.1 billion.