Unilever Buys Sir Kensington’s, Maker of Fancy Ketchup

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Sir Kensignton puts hip spin on common condiments that are already part of the Unilever’s offerings.

Credit
Cole Wilson for The New York Times

Unilever, the giant food and consumer product company, is buying Sir Kensington’s, a small condiment maker that has muscled its way on to grocery store shelves long thought impervious to disruption.

It is the first acquisition Unilever has made since it fended off a $143 billion takeover offer from the Kraft Heinz Company in February. In the intervening months, Unilever has announced that it is selling its spread business, which includes brands like Country Crock and I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter, as well as some baking lines, leading some to speculate that it might get out of food sales altogether.

But instead, it seems to be refocusing its food portfolio on ice cream and condiments, as well as tea. Unilever also makes Hellmann’s mayonnaise and Marmite, a yeast extract spread, and is not selling either.

Terms of the Sir Kensington’s deal were not announced. Verlinvest, a Belgian family investment firm, and the founders’ friends and family members who invested in the business will be bought out, giving Unilever full ownership of the New York company.

Being part of the Unilever stable will help Sir Kensington’s gain wider distribution and better terms from suppliers.

“Smaller food companies have a challenge when it comes to customer access, plain and simple,” said Scott Norton, who founded Sir Kensington’s seven years ago with a college friend, Mark Ramadan. “It’s hard really getting the ear of the grocery store buyers and category managers who are the gatekeepers to the American people and their stomachs.”

Besides the challenge of getting their products onto shelves, the founders said they were facing growing competition from other small companies. Since Sir Kensington’s breakout success, other start-up food companies have decided that condiments are ripe for new products.

Last month at Expo West, the big natural and organic food show, for instance, several companies debuted vegan mayonnaises or mayonnaises flavored with avocado oil, products Sir Kensington’s had in its lineup earlier.

Besides producing mayonnaise, ketchup and mustard, Sir Kensington’s helped elevate the profile of aquafaba, which is the cooking liquid leftover after chickpeas are processed, by using it to make a vegan mayonnaise called Fabanaise. Now, aquafaba is showing up in a variety of products, and cooking sites are even touting it for making vegan meringue.

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Sir Kensington’s co-founders Mark Ramadan and Scott Norton in the company’s Manhattan offices.

Credit
Cole Wilson for The New York Times

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