TreeHouse Foods faces pressure from activist investor to explore sale

Will Kreznick

The New York-based investor, which has built a roughly 7.5% stake, has also nominated three directors to the board, according to a regulatory filing Wednesday confirming a Bloomberg News report. TreeHouse’s 18% gain on the news was the stock’s biggest jump since 2009, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The […]

The New York-based investor, which has built a roughly 7.5% stake, has also nominated three directors to the board, according to a regulatory filing Wednesday confirming a Bloomberg News report.

TreeHouse’s 18% gain on the news was the stock’s biggest jump since 2009, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The stock was up 15% to $48.94 at 9:43 a.m. in New York, giving the company a market value of about $2.8 billion.

Representatives for Jana and Oak Brook, Illinois-TreeHouse declined to comment.

Shares in TreeHouse have underperformed the broader S&P 500 Index in recent years. The company’s shares have fallen 8.7% over the past year through Tuesday’s close while the S&P 500 has gained about 17% over the same period, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Activist Target

TreeHouse ranked second overall among companies in the Russell 3000 most likely to draw interest from activist investors, based on the Bloomberg activism screening model, which factors in things like its returns.

The company has also become a target for short sellers, and may be a potential candidate for a short squeeze in the wake of the events at GameStop Corp. and other companies with similar profiles to TreeHouse, in recent weeks, according to Steven DeSanctis, an analyst at Jefferies Financial Group Inc.

“The Robinhood and retail investors have been taking their aim at smaller-cap names that tend to lack liquidity,” he said in a Jan. 28 note to clients.

Jana, which was founded by Barry Rosenstein, has a long history of pushing for consolidation in the consumer space, including agitating at Whole Foods Market Inc. before it was sold to Amazon.com Inc. in 2017. It also pushed for the sale of Pinnacle Foods Inc., PetSmart Inc. and Safeway Inc. before they were sold.

Private label businesses, like TreeHouse, make food and beverages for grocery stores to sell under their own brands. TreeHouse’s products range from cookies and crackers to frozen waffles and coffee, according to its website.

There has been been some private equity interest in the sector in recent years. Post Holdings Inc. announced in 2018 that it had formed a new private label brand subsidiary, 8th Avenue Food & Provisions, and transferred its existing assets to the new business. It sold an almost 40% of the new entity to private equity firm Thomas H. Lee Partners.

Jana’s nominees for TreeHouse’s board are Meredith Adler, John Paul Gainor Jr., and Charles Myers, the filing shows.

The company is scheduled to report earnings on Thursday.

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