ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
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H.J. Heinz Company has been selling ketchup among other things since the late 1800s, and it has been independent the entire time. Well, that long run came to an end today. The company announced that two big investors, including Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway, will buy it for $23 billion. As NPR's Yuki Noguchi reports, Heinz will also go private.
YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: Warren Buffett's love of hamburgers is no secret. The oracle of Omaha's company owns Dairy Queen. He told CNBC's "Squawk Box," he's had his eye on Heinz since 1980 and is a regular consumer of its flagship product.
WARREN BUFFETT: I've sampled it many, many times.
NOGUCHI: Buffett found a partner in the Brazilian investment firm 3G Capital Management, which also, apparently, has a strong appetite for burgers. It has invested in Burger King and, prior to that, Wendy's. William Johnson is the long-time CEO of Heinz.
WILLIAM JOHNSON: The deal provides Heinz with more flexibility, and as a private company we can be even more focused, more competitive, more nimble and benefit from much faster decision making.
NOGUCHI: 3G has a reputation for its cost cutting, which it has brought to bear at another of its iconic American investments: Anheuser-Busch. 3G will run Heinz's operations, but Johnson says the new investors have not made decisions about employees or whether he himself will stay on.
JOHNSON: I don't know long term what the employment situation will be.
NOGUCHI: Heinz also owns the Ore-Ida potato brand and Classico pasta sauce among other things. The company will retain its name and keep its headquarters in Pittsburgh where the Steelers football team plays at Heinz Field. Johnson reiterated the new owner's commitment to the city by offering 3G executive Alex Behring some team memorabilia.
JOHNSON: In order to really indoctrinate you to Pittsburgh, we have a terrible towel.
ALEX BEHRING: There you go.
NOGUCHI: The deal gives shareholders, including Secretary of State John Kerry's wife Teresa Heinz, a 20 percent premium on the stock's all-time high. Shareholders and regulators will need to approve the deal, but executives say they expect it to close in the fall of this year. Yuki Noguchi, NPR News Washington.