Buffett puts money in ketchup, buys Heinz for $23 bn
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Heinz didn't become a public company until years later, in 1946.
Heinz is a prize because it has the type of name recognition that takes years to build, said Brian Sozzi, chief equities analyst for NBG Productions. One testament to the strength of the brand has been the company's ability to raise prices even in competitive markets, he said.
"There isn't going to be another Heinz brand,'' Sozzi said.
Johnson stressed that Heinz would remain in its native Pittsburgh as a condition of the agreement with 3G and Berkshire Hathaway. The only change will be when Heinz no longer appears in stock listings.
Although 3G Capital has a record of aggressively cutting costs at businesses it acquires, managing partner Alex Behring said Heinz is different because the business is healthy and sales are rising. But that wasn't a guarantee that jobs won't be cut.
The company earned $923.2 million on revenue of $11.65 billion in its last fiscal year.
The more Heinz is able to grow, the "safer people will be,'' said Johnson, who has been CEO for 15 years.
As for management changes, including his own tenure, Johnson said there have not yet been any discussions.
Buffett did not immediately respond to a message Thursday from The Associated Press. He has recently said that he's been hunting for elephant-sized deals. At the end of last year, he told CNBC that he had about $47 billion in cash available.
Berkshire's biggest acquisition ever was its $26.3 billion purchase of BNSF railroad in 2010.
Last year, Buffett started building a newspaper company with the $149 million acquisition of 63 Media General newspapers and several other small or mid-sized newspapers. Berkshire also bought the Prudential and Real Living real-estate franchises nationwide last fall.
The Heinz deal and the American Airlines-US Airways merger add to an already strong start for merger activity this year. Global merger activity has been tepid since 2007, when $4.6 trillion in deals were announced, according to Dealogic. Last year's total was $2.7 trillion.