Merger planned by Pittsburgh’s H.J. Heinz Co. and Chicago-area Kraft Foods Group reaches a point of climax when Pittsburgh officials denied from leaving their hometown for business.
Post the joint venture of a Berkshire Hathaway & the Brazilian investment firm 3G Capital bought Heinz for $28 billion back in June 2013, many feared the company would be remembered only by its name on places like Heinz Hall, Heinz History Center and Heinz Field, the North Shore home to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Since that time, the new owners have cut more than 6,000 jobs across the global company, including several hundred in Pittsburgh.
But Heinz CEO Bernardo Hees, who will become CEO of the new Kraft Heinz Co., made a point of telling analysts in a conference call Wednesday that since the June 2013 acquisition, the company has promoted more than 1,400 people internally.
Pittsburgh officials and employees, relieved to hear company officials promising fidelity to the region, heralded the merger as the right step to grow more on a global scale.
Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said the merger could help the city because Pittsburgh is a desirable place to conduct business. Heinz, founded in Sharpsburg more than a century ago, has inspired commitment within the region and will continue to do so, he said.
“[Heinz] is a part of our heritage — and that’s very important — but they’re such a giant within the food industry and they’re staying important,” he said.
Heinz no longer makes any products in the region. The plant on the North Side that used to make Heinz products is now owned by Illinois-based TreeHouse Foods.
Ted Smyth, former chief administrative officer at Heinz, said the merger was “great news for Pittsburgh because it seems like Heinz will be running Kraft.” He said the merger was a vote of confidence in the city.
Mr. Hees conceded that some functions could shift to Illinois but said the Heinz business will continue to be led from Pittsburgh.
Still, Pittsburgh has had experience watching losing iconic company headquarters to other cities after a merger. Mellon Financial Corp.’s headquarters moved out of Pittsburgh after 137 years after the company merged with Bank of New York in July 2007. BNY Mellon retains a major presence in Pittsburgh.
Perhaps the highest profile local institution bearing the Heinz name is the Steelers’ home, which is regularly featured on nationwide TV broadcasts.
“It’ll remain Heinz Field,” said Michael Mullen, senior vice president of corporate and government affairs, during a media conference call Wednesday morning.
The Steelers sold the naming rights for the football stadium in 2001 to the Heinz Co. for $57 million over 30 years. Mr. Mullen said the new company will maintain its relationship with the team and Heinz Field.
Heinz will also sustain its longtime relationship with the city, as headquarters will remain at PPG Place, Downtown.
Andy Masich, president and CEO of Heinz History Center, said, “H.J. Heinz would have been pleased with the merger” because the company founder always thought globally.
The center has had an exhibit focused on Heinz for about 15 years, which looks at the company as a global food empire. The Heinz story is filled with mergers and consolidations from over the years, said Mr. Masich.
“What’s not to love? Mac ‘n cheese and ketchup … that’s as good as it gets,” he said.