Cold comfort: ConAgra buys Birds Eye maker for $10.9 billion

Is algae the food of the future?
Is algae the food of the future?

The maker of Hungry-Man is getting hitched to the owner of Marie Callender's in a deal worth nearly $11 billion.

ConAgra Brands (CAG) -- the food giant that owns Chef Boyardee, Hunt's and Orville Redenbacher's as well as Marie Callender's -- is buying Pinnacle Foods (PF), the parent company of Birds Eye, Duncan Hines, Vlasic and the Hungry-Man frozen food brand.

Both companies are leaders in the frozen food business, which has actually been a bright spot in the food industry, and their combination will create a frozen food giant.

Sales growth for ConAgra's and Pinnacle's frozen food entrees has outpaced the growth of their major rivals over the past few months, according to a research report from Bernstein analysts that was published Tuesday.

But the deal comes at a difficult time for big food companies: Amazon (AMZN), Walmart (WMT), Costco (COST) and Kroger (KR) are pressuring them to cut prices.

Lower prices at the grocery store are great for consumers, but they have been hurting the profits for major food companies. Stock prices have been falling this year, and the speculation is that companies will team up to get bigger.

The ConAgra-Pinnacle deal could wind up being the first of many in the food business.

Campbell Soup's (CPB) stock surged earlier this week following a New York Post report that said Kraft Heinz (KHC) -- backed by Warren Buffett -- and cereal king General Mills (GIS) might want to buy the struggling soup company.

And shares of peanut butter and jelly maker Smucker (SJM) rallied Tuesday on takeover chatter, too.

Related: Campbell Soup is piping hot after reported interest from Kraft Heinz

Many of these food companies have faced sluggish demand for some of their older, packaged food brands. Consumers are increasingly flocking to more natural and organic products.

ConAgra and Pinnacle have already been trying to boost healthier food offerings. ConAgra acquired Boomchickapop parent company Angie's Artisan Treats last September for $250 million.

And Pinnacle bought Boulder Brands, the maker of gluten free bread maker Udi's, EVOL and Smart Balance, for more than $700 million in 2015.

Hershey (HSY), which successfully fended off a hostile takeover attempt from Oreo owner Mondelez (MDLZ) in 2016, has bought SkinnyPop maker Amplify Snack Brands, BarkThins owner Ripple Brand Collective and jerky maker Krave Pure Foods in the past few years.

Kellogg (K) gobbled up Chicago Bar, the owner of the RXBar protein bar, last October for $600 million.

But the ConAgra-Pinnacle deal dwarfs all of these other food mergers. ConAgra is buying Pinnacle with a mix of cash and stock that values Pinnacle at a little more than $8 billion, or $68 a share. Including Pinnacle's debt, the deal is worth $10.9 billion.

Rumors of ConAgra's interest in Pinnacle have been floating around for the past few days, and shares of Pinnacle fell in early trading.

ConAgra's stock fell too, even though the company announced earnings and sales Wednesday that topped forecasts.

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