Why is this takeover different from all other takeovers?
Because the takeover of the venerable Manischewitz company by a private equity firm means that the iconic Jewish business will likely be making a big push to sell even more of its fare to non-Jews.
Manischewitz, the country’s largest manufacturer of kosher foods, announced last Thursday that the family-owned company has been acquired by Sankaty Advisors, an affiliate of Bain Capital and one of the world’s largest managers of fixed income and credit instruments.
Mark Weinsten, the new CEO, comes to Manischewitz from FTI Consulting, a business advisory firm with offices in 26 countries. Asked why Sankaty is getting involved with a food brand like Manischewitz, Weinsten told The Jewish Week Tuesday, “Sankaty has made investments in the food space before. This is a powerful marriage.
“Manischewitz benefits from it by having an owner that is very dedicated to growing the business, and Sankaty will benefit by, ideally, getting a good return on their investment, a likely proposition given Manischewitz’s strength as a brand.”
According to Weinsten’s bio, he has over 20 years’ experience leading companies “facing performance challenges,” but he insisted that this was not the case in the Manischewitz-Sankaty union.
While Manischewitz consumers need not expect any big changes at the company, there will be a big push to not only continue to expand the brand’s offerings — think even more flavors of matzah and macaroons — but also to market those offerings to customers who don’t keep kosher or, in some instances, aren’t Jewish at all.
According to the company’s press release, the brand has seen a significant rise in sales of its products to “mainstream” consumers: currently, more than 50 percent of the brand’s customers aren’t Jewish or don’t keep kosher. And Manischewitz wants to move into the mainstream even more.
“Let me put it to you this way,” Weinsten said. “Manischewitz makes a great soup. And that soup would be appealing not just to kosher customers, but also to other customers … buying soups that frankly, I don’t think taste nearly as good as ours does. So why wouldn’t we want to appeal to that customer as well?”
But Weinsten said that continuity at Manischewitz is just as big a priority for the new ownership as innovation.
“This is an iconic brand,” he said. “It’s a very important brand to Jewish consumers. And so we need to stay true to that. The same guy that’s on the matzah line making the matzah is still doing what he does best.”
Early reaction to the deal is favorable, despite the fact that private equity takeovers can sometimes mean a loss of jobs and a gutting of the company being acquired.
Menachem Lubinsky, president of Integrated Marketing and a close observer of the kosher food scene, told The Jewish Week Tuesday, “I don’t know what [Sankaty’s] business plan is, but if Manischewitz continues on the course it’s been on — introducing new products and modernizing its packaging — then I’m optimistic.”
Asked if there was a downside to the takeover, Lubinsky said he didn’t think so. He said Manischewitz “looks like it’s on the rise, not in decline. I think they’re having a pretty good Passover this year.” He added that with the acquisition, the company could perhaps “take it to the next level.”
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