Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Deal Announcement From Grocers Sprouts and Sunflower Farmers Market on Tap

The Insider - Heard on the Street

It was in this November 6, 2011 column - Roll Up Times Two? Sprouts Farmers Market In Talks With Sunflower Farmers Market About Possible Acquisition - when I first broke the news that kissing cousin format grocery chains Sprouts Farmers Market and Sunflower Farmers Market were engaged in acquisition-merger deal negotiations, with Sprouts' either acquiring Sunflower Farmers Market outright or Sunflower being merged into Sprouts Farmers Market, with Sprouts' as the controlling entity.

On January 25, 2012 [See - January 25, 2012: Sprouts Farmers Market and Sunflower Farmers Market Ink Acquisition-Merger Deal] I reported that Phoenix, Arizona-based Sprouts, which operates 103 stores - a new store opens tomorrow in Yorba Linda, California - in Arizona, California, Colorado and Texas, and Sunflower Farmers Market, which is headquartered in Colorado and has its operations office in Phoenix Arizona, had reached a deal, pending the ironing out of a few details.

Sunflower Farmers Market, which like Sprouts Farmers Market is privately-held, operates 35 stores in Colorado (12), Arizona (7), New Mexico (6), Nevada (2), Texas (2), Oklahoma (1), Utah (3) and California (2).

Those details have now been resolved, according to my sources, and the two farmers market-style grocery chains are preparing to make an announcement about the acquisition-merger deal.

The announcement should come before the end of this week. However, there are some logistical and related issues that could result in the announcement coming a bit later.

Roll up: Sunflower makes two

It's been less than a year since the acquisition-merger deal between Henry's Farmers Market and Sprouts Farmers Market became final on April 18, 2011.

In January 2011, I broke the news in this column - Will 2011 See Sprouts Farmers Market Acquiring Henry's Farmers Market? 'The Insider' Says it Could Be in The Cards - that Sprouts' and Apollo/Henry's were in acquisition/merger negotiations.

I continued to report extensively on the deal talks throughout January 2011 and into February. [See those reports and columns here and here.]

On Wednesday, February 16, 2011, the two grocers announced the deal. [See: Breaking: Smart & Final Enters Into Agreement to Sell Henry's to Sprouts Farmers Market. The day before, on February 15, 2011, I published this: Sprouts Farmers Market's Acquisition of Henry's to Be Announced This Week, As Early As Wednesday.

Henry's was owned at the time by private equity firm Apollo Global Management (through its Smart & Final food retailing company), which was founded by Leon Black, who remains its chief deal-maker.

Apollo and Sprouts' founders and part-owners merged the Henry's Farmers Market chain into Sprouts Farmers Market, with Henry's going away and Sprouts' in control of the combined chains.

The deal made Apollo Global Management the majority owner of Sprouts Farmers Market.

In addition to Apollo, Sprouts has about 200 investors, most of them individuals. The investors range from a few who hold a considerable amount of stock to others who hold a few shares. Sprouts Farmers Market is not a publicly-held company, however.

Stan and Sean Boney, the chairman and CEO of Sprouts respectively, and board members Scott Wing and Kevin Easler - the four men founded Sprouts Farmers Market in 2002 - have minority ownership stakes in Sprouts Farmers Market, along with the investors. The individual investors were in place before Apollo's involvement.

Doug Sanders is Sprouts' president. He's responsible for the chain's operations, reporting to Sean Boney. Jim Nielson, who was president of Henry's Farmers Market, joined Sprouts Farmers Market last year as part of the merger deal. He is Sprouts' chief operating officer, reporting to Doug Sanders.

Co-founders Stan Boney and CEO Sean Boney, who is Stan's son, had wanted to acquire the Henry's chain, which was founded by Stan Boney's father Henry, for many years.

Stan Boney was the chairman and CEO of the then family-owned Henry's chain until 1999, when it was sold to Wild Oats Markets, which was acquired by Whole Foods Markets in 2007. Three years later he started Sprouts Farmers Market with his son and the two partners/co-founders.

The deal with Apollo Global Management was a good one for Sprouts, not only because it brought Henry's in-house but because it also provides the chain with a constant source of investment capital, private equity firm and majority-owner Apollo, which is also something the Boney's were after to help fuel their growth plans for Sprouts Farmers Market.

Apollo has even more ambitious growth plans for the chain that the founders did, which of course is what private equity firms do - grow a business and then eventually sell it and make a profit.

The deal also took one of Sprouts' two farmers market-style kissing cousin format cousins out as a direct competitor. Instead, the kissing cousin, Henry's, moved into the same house, called Sprouts Farmers Market.

That other kissing cousin competitor is, of course - Sunflower Farmers Market.

And soon it will join its farmers market-style format kissing cousins; all three - Sprouts, Henry's and Sunflower - under the same roof, and the roll up will be completed.

- The Insider

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