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Can a new owner fatten up Slim-Fast?


Unilever yesterday decided to get a bit thinner by selling off a majority stake in Slim-Fast, the 37 year-old weight management and meal replacement shake-maker. The buyer is Kainos Capital, a Dallas-based private equity firm founded several years ago by the food and consumer products team of Hicks, Muse, Tate & Furst. No financial terms were disclosed for the deal, after which London-listed Unilever will retain a minority stake.

We spent some time discussing the deal and future of Slim-Fast with Andrew Rosen, managing partner of Kainos Capital. What follows is an edited transcript of our conversation:

Are you merging the two companies?

They’re technically separate businesses, because Unilever wanted to retain a minority stake. But there’s a fair amount of overlap, including leadership. Chris Tisi will serve as CEO of both companies.

So basically it’s a single company with two cap tables? Will they also share things like distribution agreements?

Yeah. The intent is two have them work together. You’re also seeing a blurring of the lines of what’s a supplement and what’s a food. Functional foods that not only taste great and fill you up, but also have additional benefits like being fortified with protein. Or the weight management and the meal replacement category.

Unilever paid $2.3 billion for Slim-Fast back in 2000, but you’re only managing a $475 million fund. It would seem that it lost value, right?

We’re not discussing deal terms.

But Unilever will have to disclose it at some point as a publicly-traded company, right?

I don’t know. That’s a better question for them.

Okay, let me rephrase: What is your plan to grow a business that may have declined a bit over the past decade? 

It’s always hard to discern why it happens, but certain brands become orphans. For example, we saw it when we bought Chef Boyardee and Pam cooking spray from American Home Products, or bought Swanson frozen dinners from Vlasic International. These brands just didn’t get enough time and attention and, since weight management and meal replacement is one of the few bright spots in the grocery category, we see real opportunity to help revitalize one of that area’s most iconic brand through targeted marketing initiatives and product development. Consumers expect new flavors and different functionality and the like, but creating those things hasn’t been a priority for the business recently.

Will you be providing growth capital, in addition to whatever you’re paying Unilver?

The business is going to be very well-capitalized to fund new initiatives. We’re not disclosing specifics, but we’ve committed appropriate resources.

Would you expects layoffs or location changes?

We’re really acquiring the brand, but not people. We’re building a team for Slim-Fast that, at the end of the day, will be around 20 individuals. Some of them will come over from Healthy Delight. All of the products now are made by third-parties, so there are no existing manufacturing employees or facilities.

Have you ever drank a Slim-Fast?

Oh yes, I have drank a lot of Slim-Fast. In general, I’m a huge proponent of protein drinks, particularly Slim-Fast vs. the others because we’re the only major one actually made with milk. Even Muscle Milk doesn’t have actual milk in it. That gives us a big advantage on taste and performance.

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