* Burger King CFO Schwartz to succeed Hees as CEO
* Forecasts Q1 EPS beat on soft restaurant sales
* Shares up almost 4 percent
By Lisa Baertlein and Martinne Geller
April 11 (Reuters) - Burger King Worldwide Inc forecast a slightly higher quarterly profit on Thursday than Wall Street expected, even though spending among fast-food diners remains weak.
The hamburger chain, which has a long history of ownership and management changes, also said Chief Executive Bernardo Hees will leave to take over at H.J. Heinz Co.
The company’s shares were up 4.1 percent in afternoon trading.
Burger King expects first-quarter adjusted earnings of 17 cents per share - a penny higher than the average analyst estimate complied by Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
The company expects sales at restaurants open at least 13 months to fall 1.5 percent globally and 3 percent in the United States and Canada in the first quarter, slightly more than Wall Street’s average estimates.
But it said sales were up in March after it found the right recipe for value food offers.
The company known for its flame-broiled Whopper hamburgers went public in June 2012, less than two years after it was taken private by Brazilian investment fund 3G Capital Management LLC, which retains a nearly 70 percent stake.
The chain’s new owners have slashed costs, sold restaurants to operators, boosted franchisee field support staff and introduced items such as salads and smoothies to broaden its customer base beyond young males.
Burger King shares were up 67 cents at $19.13 in midday trading. Its board also approved a 20 percent rise in the dividend.
Hees, 43, has led Burger King since its October 2010 sale to 3G and will become Burger King’s vice chairman after he switches companies.
Daniel Schwartz, Burger King’s chief financial officer, will succeed Hees as CEO and Joshua Kobza be promoted to CFO.
Hees will replace William Johnson as CEO of Heinz upon the completion of the ketchup seller’s $23.2 billion acquisition by Berkshire Hathaway Inc and 3G, or on July 1, whichever comes first.
Heinz had no comment on the CEO change.
Johnson stands to walk away from the company he led for 15 years with more than $212 million - a “golden parachute” worth about $56 million, nearly $100 million in vested equity and $57 million in other deferred compensation.
Last month, when Heinz filed its proxy, spokesman Michael Mullen said the payments reflected Johnson’s success in creating billions of dollars in shareholder value over his 15-year tenure as CEO.