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Kind Bars to Be Acquired by Maker of Snickers

Kind Bars to Be Acquired by Maker of Snickers

Mars, a giant in the candy bar world, will buy Kind North America, which emphasizes healthy snacks.

Kind bars emphasize their clear packaging and ingredients “people can pronounce.”
Kind bars emphasize their clear packaging and ingredients “people can pronounce.”Credit…Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

By Andrew Ross Sorkin and Lauren Hirsch

Mars, the company behind M&M’s and Snickers, is acquiring the maker of Kind bars, the snacks that celebrate their lack of artificial flavors and preservatives, company executives told The New York Times in an interview.

The deal for Kind North America comes three years after Mars, a privately held giant in the candy industry, took a minority stake in the company. Terms were not formally announced, but people with knowledge of the deal said it valued Kind at about $5 billion.

Kind, which was founded by Daniel Lubetzky in 2005, sells bars in flavors like Cranberry Almond and Dark Chocolate and emphasizes clear packaging and simple ingredients. A deal with Starbucks in 2009 helped it expand in the crowded snack market. It now also offers granola, cereal and other products.

The deal is a bet on the durability of the healthy snacking industry, as Mars looks beyond its long-established brands like Twix and Skittles. Mr. Lubetzky said the sale would allow Kind to take a longer view and continue to consider new products, geographic expansion and, likely, acquisitions.

“We don’t need to worry about getting a return in 2021,” he said. “We can think about investments that make sense for two, three, five, 10 years out.”

Mr. Lubetzky said he would stay involved in the company and retain a stake in Kind. Mr. Lubetzky, a Mexican-American entrepreneur, has made social change a key part of the company’s mission. Among his philanthropic endeavors is the Kind Foundation, which helped give frontline workers goods like food and skin care products as they battled the pandemic.

Mars, one of the country’s largest private companies, is planning for a future beyond its candies. Mars owns several pet-food brands, including Iams, Pedigree and Royal Canin. It has also made big investments in the pet care industry, buying in the last few years the veterinary company VCA for $7.7 billion and Europe’s AniCura, a chain of animal clinics and hospitals.

When Mars bought a minority stake in Kind in 2017, valuing the company at $4 billion, it was looking to catch a wildly popular snack brand that offered a healthy alternative to chocolate bars, while Kind was attracted to Mars’s international foothold. Since then, of course, the pandemic has changed how people shop for food and eat, and how companies pitch new products. Sales at Kind initially jumped when the pandemic began, Mr. Lubetzky said, as the homebound stocked up on snacks and the company benefited from a strong online presence.

But snacks are under pressure, as corporate cafeterias, airports and coffee shops still have little or no business. It has also become harder for food companies to introduce products because supermarkets are limiting shelves to items they know will be popular.

In-person samples, a traditional way to bring a new product to the marketplace, have become a health risk.

“It is challenging in the year of Covid to introduce new items across the world,” Mr. Lubetzky said. “Kind is gaining a lot of traction globally, but it’s just taking longer than we would have liked.”

That backdrop, at least in the short term, has reversed trends that looked to threaten stalwart food brands like General Mills, Kellogg and Campbell Soup, which have seen sales grow during the pandemic. The largest food companies in the United States have for years struggled to compete against the innovation driven by newer niche brands that first infiltrated Whole Foods and later seeped into traditional grocers like Kroger and Costco.

“I very much believe that disruptive brands have a very long future — just less so in 2020 and 2021,” Mr. Lubetzky said.

Still, Kind’s sales have risen to about $1.5 billion from roughly $1 billion at the end of 2017, Mr. Lubetzky said. It has expanded its reach from five countries to 35, including China, Germany and France, and its range of products has expanded and includes frozen items, leaning on Mars’s technology to create dairy-free frozen treat bars.

Andrew Ross Sorkin is a columnist and the founder and editor-at-large of DealBook. He is a co-anchor of CNBC’s Squawk Box and the author of “Too Big to Fail.” He is also the co-creator of the Showtime drama series Billions.