Kraft Heinz finally gets some praise from the Warren Buffett crew

Brian Sozzi
·Editor-at-Large
·3 min read

Kraft Heinz's new CEO Miguel Patricio is finally getting some praise from Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway for coming in and saving the once sinking packaged food ship. 

Berkshire Hathaway Vice Chairman Greg Abel said Saturday at the company's annual shareholder meeting he feels "comfortable" with Kraft Heinz, voicing confidence in the leadership of Patricio and his new management team. Abel is on the Kraft Heinz board along with fellow Berkshire Hathaway executive Tim Kenesey. 

Berkshire owns about 26% of Kraft Heinz. 

To be sure, this public comfort with the company is very new.

Kraft Heinz for years slashed investments in key brands in order to meet aggressive operating profit targets by backer 3G Capital since their 2015 merger. Top talent left the company. 

One of the final black eyes came in February 2019, when Kraft Heinz took a $15.4 billion write-down on its natural cheese, Oscar Mayer cold cuts and Canadian retail businesses. Buffett himself then expressed displeasure in his investment at the 2019 Berkshire annual meeting held in March.

Enter Patricio as CEO in July 2019.

The former Anheuser-Busch marketing wizard wasted no time in setting up a new management team. In September 2020, Patricio sold part of the company's cheese business for $3.2 billion to France's Groupe Lactalis. That sale was unveiled at the company's investor day, where it outlined a more focused set of product priorities. He promised to boost marketing by 30% in top brands while also cutting $2 billion in costs through 2024. 

A Heinz Ketchup bottle sits between a box of Kraft macaroni and cheese and a bottle of Kraft Original Barbecue Sauce on a grocery store shelf in New York March 25, 2015.   REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo      GLOBAL BUSINESS WEEK AHEAD PACKAGE - SEARCH
A Heinz Ketchup bottle sits between a box of Kraft macaroni and cheese and a bottle of Kraft Original Barbecue Sauce on a grocery store shelf in New York March 25, 2015. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo GLOBAL BUSINESS WEEK AHEAD PACKAGE - SEARCH "BUSINESS WEEK AHEAD AUG 1" FOR ALL IMAGES

In mid-February, Patricio then unloaded the Planters nut business to Hormel for $3.35 billion

"We are a very different company than we were a year ago," Patricio told Yahoo Finance Live soon after the Planters sale

The efforts have begun to pay off just as Kraft Heinz has benefited by people eating more food at home amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Kraft Heinz first quarter sales rose 3.9% and adjusted operating profits gained 11.6%.

Sales increased in all of the company's business segments: U.S. (up 2.5%); international (up 7.2%); and Canada (up 8.8%). Adjusted operating profits improved year-over-year in all segments, led by a 57.4% increase in Canada.

The stock has been one of the best performing packaged foods year-to-date, according to Yahoo Finance Plus data — shares are up 20%. Shares are still down some 47% over the past five years.

Brian Sozzi is an editor-at-large and anchor at Yahoo Finance. Follow Sozzi on Twitter @BrianSozzi and on LinkedIn.

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