Activist-targeted Hain Celestial Group Inc. (HAIN)  on Wednesday, Feb. 7, announced it was exploring the sale of its Pure Protein meat business, in a move that comes as the maker of Terra Chips and other organic and vegetarian foods just missed earnings expectations.

Hain shares traded 4.3% lower in premarket trading on Wednesday. 

Specifically, Hain reported adjusted earnings per share of 41 cents, just missing a consensus of analyst estimate of 42 cents. The organic foods maker reported net sales of $775.2 million, roughly in line with consensus estimates of $776 million. It also reported net income of $47.1 million, above a $44 million consensus estimate.

The possibility of a divestiture of the Pure Protein division, which is an organic and antibiotic-free poultry business, emerged in June when Hain Celestial founder and CEO Irwin Simon responded to a question about the unit on an analyst conference call. He said, "We are going to look at all our businesses ... and evaluate what strategically makes sense" in response to aquestion about whether the division should continue to remain a part of Hain.

The earnings come after activist Glenn Welling and his Engaged Capital reached a deal in September to bring on six dissident directors. Welling scored a seat on Hain's strategic review working group, which was set up to consider options such as divestitures or a sale of the whole business.

TheStreet's sister publication, The Deal, reported in November that there was a serious possibility that Hain could sell some brands, rather than the entire business, as a mechanism to raise cash to invest in operations and for stock buybacks.

A sale of the Pure Protein division may be a first step to help make Hain Celestial more attractive to a buyer of the whole business. Nestle SA, which is under pressure from activist Dan Loeb's Third Point LLC, reportedly in November held preliminary talks to acquire Hain. 

Hain is the last remaining independent publicly traded pure-play natural and organic food company, making it an attractive target.  Hain Pure Protein reported net sales of $159 million for the quarter, up 4% from the same period last year.

A sale of the whole business is a serious possibility down the road as Welling has driven M&A at a number of his targeted organic foods companies in the past. 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 at Canadian natural and organic foods processor SunOpta Inc.  (STKL) .

Hain Celestial also on Wednesday announced an expanded unsecured $1.3 billion credit facility, led by Bank of America Merrill Lynch and Wells Fargo.

Beyond Hain, PepsiCo Inc. (PEP) , Campbell Soup Co. (CPB) , Hormel Foods Corp. (HRL) , General Mills Inc. (GIS) , Kraft Heinz Co. (KHC) and Unilever NV (UN) could all be interested in buying Hain as they seek to hike their exposure to organic foods. 

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