“The Heinz brand is one of the most respected brands in the global food industry and this historic transaction provides tremendous value to Heinz shareholders,” said William R. Johnson, chairman, president and chief executive of the company.
Mr Johnson said he expected the sale to be approved by Heinz shareholders and expects the deal to be completed some time in the third quarter of this year.
The food boss said talks between the companies began almost eight weeks ago, when 3G made an “unsolicited approach” for Heinz.
“We did not solicit this, they came to me but as a public company we have a fiduciary responsibility to follow up,” he said in a press conference this afternoon.
“A proposal was submitted and that was taken to the board and it really began in earnest 6 weeks ago and the board has been working hard to get it to today’s announcement.”
According to reports by Bloomberg, Mr Johnson stands to gain as much as $ 100m from the buyout.
Heinz has been the subject of much takeover speculation and when asked why the company had now accepted this deal, Mr Johnson said the offer was just so good he felt “compelled” to take it to the board and noted that it was the largest deal in the food industry’s history.
“The board then hired outside representation and advisers working on this and the board concluded that the value opportunity for the shareholders was just too great to pass up,” he said.
“And secondly, one thing we agreed on from the outset was that Pittsburgh was not negotiable [as the company’s headquarters].
“When you combined all that together that the board said it was such a compelling proposition they had to present it to shareholders.”
The deal, which comes days after shares in Heinz hit an all-time high of $ 61, received unanimous approval from the company’s board.
3G will be Heinz’s operator after the deal closes, and the company will remain headquartered in Pittsburgh. Berkshire and 3G promised they would maintain the company’s philanthropic commitments in the city.
But it was not immediately clear if Mr Johnson would stay on and no firm commitment was made in the press conference, only mention that management would be looked at following the completion of the deal.
As only the fifth chairman in the company’s 144-year history, Mr Johnson is widely credited with Heinz’s recent strong growth.
Meanwhile, Mr Buffett, commonly touted as the world’s most successful investor, also said he had ample cash left and was ready for another major acquisition, with Berkshire’s excess cash at the end of 2012 of around $ 27bn.
For the 82-year-old financier, the deal represents an unusual teaming with private equity for a major acquisition because historically, his purchases have been outright his own. The last time he participated in such an arrangement was when Berkshire helped fund Mars Inc’s $ 23bn buyout of Wrigley.
However for 3G the acquisition will naturally complement its investment in fast-food chain Burger King, which it bought in 2010 and in which it still holds a major stake.
While the new owners have said it will be business as usual, British union officials are seeking urgent talks with senior management for “more detailed assurances that their jobs and sites will remain secure.”
Given the saturated North American market, Heinz has increasingly looked to emerging markets, an approach which has helped it achieve an eight-year sales growth streak. In its last quarter, the company said emerging markets made up 23pc of sales.