US billionaire Warren Buffett is set to buy food giant Heinz in a deal worth $28bn (£18bn).
Mr Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway company and private equity firm 3G have agreed to take over the food company, famous for its ketchup and baked beans.
In a statement, Heinz called the deal “historic”, and the largest to date in the food industry.
Shares in Heinz soared nearly 20% in New York to hit the $72.50 price being offered.
And Class A shares in Berkshire Hathaway rose 1% to $149,240 a share – a record closing high.
The takeover has been approved by the company’s board, but still needs to be voted on by shareholders.
“The Heinz brand is one of the most respected brands in the global food industry and this historic transaction provides tremendous value to Heinz shareholders,” said Heinz chairman, president and chief executive William Johnson.
“We look forward to partnering with Berkshire Hathaway and 3G Capital, both greatly respected investors, in what will be an exciting new chapter in the history of Heinz.”
‘Sage of Omaha’
The deal will marry one of the best-known brands in the food industry with one of the US’s most famous businessmen.
Mr Buffett is one of the richest men in the world, having amassed a multi-billion-dollar fortune over decades of investing. His investment expertise has earned him the nickname “the sage of Omaha”.
“It is our kind of company,” Mr Buffett told CNBC. “I’ve sampled it many times.”
“Anytime we see a deal is attractive and it’s our kind of business and we’ve got the money, I’m ready to go,” he said.
3G Capital also owns the fast-food chain Burger King.
The deal will offer shareholders $72.50 a share, a 20% premium on the company’s previous all-time high share price.
Berkshire Hathaway will contribute $12-$13bn in cash to the deal. In total around $23bn of the deal will be in cash, with the rest in debt.
Heinz has been operating in the US market since it was founded in Pittsburgh in the late 19th Century.
Heinz says it sells 650 million bottles of its ketchup worldwide every year, and it is the biggest seller of baked beans in the UK.
The BBC’s Mark Gregory said the deal was not just for old times’ sake, and that Heinz now does much of its business in fast growing, developing economies.
Emerging markets make up around a quarter of its global sales, Heinz said.
In the UK and Ireland it employs around 2,500 people, with its headquarters in Hayes, Middlesex and food factories around the country.
Unite, Britain’s biggest union, has called for a meeting with Heinz for assurances over jobs in the UK.
At a press conference following the announcement of the deal, 3G Capital’s co-founder Alex Behring assured Heinz employees the 144-year-old business would continue to be headquartered in Pittsburgh. But he said it was too soon to discuss potential cost-cutting measures.
If agreed, the deal would be the latest in a string of big deals announced recently, after merger activity suffered during the global financial crisis.
Earlier American Airlines and US Airways confirmed plans to merge, in an $11bn deal to create the world’s biggest airline, and last week computer maker Dell announced a planned $24bn takeover by its founder Michael Dell.
The UK’s Virgin Media is also set to be bought by Liberty Global for $23.3bn.
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