Nestle sells U.S. ice cream brands to joint venture Froneri in $4 billion deal

ZURICH (Reuters) - Nestle SA NESN.S has agreed to sell its U.S. ice cream business to Froneri in a deal valued at $4 billion, moving control of brands including Häagen-Dazs to a joint venture the Swiss group set up in 2016.

FILE PHOTO: A logo is pictured during the 152nd Annual General Meeting of Nestle in Lausanne, Switzerland April 11, 2019. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Photo

Froneri was created after Nestle merged its European ice cream business in 20 countries with R&R, a unit of French private equity firm PAI Partners.

With operations in regions including Latin America and Asia, it is one of the largest ice cream companies in the world with a turnover of around 2.9 billion Swiss francs ($2.91 billion) as of last year.

Wednesday’s deal expands Froneri’s reach to the United States and is expected to add $1.8 billion to annual sales.

“(We) are convinced that Froneri’s successful business model can be extended to the U.S. market,” Nestle’s Chief Executive Officer Mark Schneider said.

Nestle owns the rights to Häagen-Dazs in the United States, while Yoplait maker General Mills GIS.N sells the premium brand in non-U.S. markets.

Since taking over reins at Nestle in 2016, Schneider has embarked on a strategy that focuses on selling premium products in high growth categories such as baby food and coffee, while offloading underperforming businesses.

Earlier this year, the Swiss company put its Herta cold cuts and meat-based products business on the block and sold its skin health business to a consortium led by EQT Partners for 10.2 billion Swiss francs.

“(The Froneri deal) underlines the seismic change going on at Nestle in terms of portfolio transformation to focus on where it thinks it can add value, while rolling those businesses where it thinks others can do better into ventures that do so,” Kepler Cheuvreux analyst Jon Cox said.

The deal is expected to close in the first quarter of 2020 following regulatory approvals, Nestle said.

The maker of Nescafe coffee and KitKat chocolates will continue to run its remaining ice cream businesses in Canada, Latin America and Asia.

Reporting by Michael Shields in Zurich and Nivedita Balu and Siddharth Cavale in Bengaluru; editing by Edmund Blair, Patrick Graham and Sriraj Kalluvila