Food Giant Schwan’s Sells 80 Percent of Business to Korean Company in $1.8B Deal
Photo by R. Nial Bradshaw (CC)

Food Giant Schwan’s Sells 80 Percent of Business to Korean Company in $1.8B Deal

In the deal with South Korea-based food and bioengineering business CJ CheilJedang, the Bloomington-based, family-founded Schwan’s will retain 20 % ownership, full ownership of its home service division, and headquarters and leadership team.

Packaged food enterprise Schwan’s Company is selling a majority of its business to CJ CheilJedang (CJCJ), a Seoul, South Korea-based conglomerate specializing in food, pharmaceuticals and biotechnology. The deal is valued at $1.84 billion.

Per terms of the deal, CJCJ – which is a subsidiary of CJ Group – will control 80 percent of Schwan’s Company and subsidiaries that specifically focus on foods sold in retail, grocery and food-service spaces. Meanwhile, the Schwan family will retain 20 percent ownership in the overall business, and 100 percent ownership in Schwan’s Home Service Inc. business arm, which will be carved out into an independent entity.

“This is an exciting time at Schwan’s,” said Paul Schwan, company board member and second- generation founding family member, in a statement. “By becoming a part of an innovative, global team such as [CJCJ], Schwan’s will be positioned to achieve new levels of growth in the spirit of the vision put forth by my father, Marvin Schwan, so many years ago.”

Founded in 1952 in Marshall, Schwan’s began as a home delivery food business operated by one man in a truck. The company has grown over the decades to become one of Minnesota’s largest private businesses, as well as a fixture in American food culture between its ubiquitous door-to-door delivery trucks and its popular brands such as Pagoda Asian cuisine, Red Baron and Tony’s pizzas, and Mrs. Smith’s and Edwards desserts and pies.

Popularity of the Edwards line of sweets, in particular, reached new heights this year. During the summer, Schwan’s opened its first-ever retail concept for the brand, Edwards Dessert Kitchen in the North Loop neighborhood of Minneapolis.

The sale of Schwan’s to CJCJ comes just under a year after rumors began swirling that Schwan’s was looking for a buyer. Speculation at the time suggested if the entirety of the Schwan’s empire were it sell it could fetch up to $2.5 billion.

In the leadup to sale rumors, Schwan’s had been coming off an active year in which it had purchased three pizza businesses, made a sizeable investment in a southwestern Minnesota shrimp farming operation, and committed $5 million to subscription-based baby food service Raised Real. The company has been comparably quieter since rumors of a sale began to emerge.

In CJCJ’s announcement about acquiring a majority stake in Schwan’s, it was noted the company set its sights on the U.S. food market in part because of increasing American interest in Korean culture and the fast-growing interest in healthy and global products, especially from millennials. The company said it chose to Schwan’s to be its entry into the U.S. market based on the company’s history, experience and brand recognition.

“Through the acquisition of Schwan’s Company, CJ’s goal is to become a major player in the global frozen food market,” read the announcement. “CJCJ will achieve its mission… by integrating Schwan’s brand power and infrastructure with CJCJ’s [research and development] capabilities.”

Once the sale closes, Schwan’s will be operated as a subsidiary of CJ Foods America Corp. The transaction includes manufacturing and logistics operations owned by Schwan’s, as well as various administrative services. Its operations, however, will continue to be headquartered in Marshall and Bloomington, and Schwan’s senior management team will remain in place.

“We look forward to working closely with our new team members to further strengthen our operations and accelerate growth for the benefit of consumers, customers and employees,” said Schwan’s CEO Dimitrios Smyrnios in prepared remarks. “The future for Schwan’s and our people is very bright.”

The deal is expected to close within 90 days.