Warren Buffett to Go After Panera

In what may honestly be referred to as a battle of the giants, Brazilian private equity firm 3G Capital and Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (NYSE: BRK-A) may be preparing to compete with European investment firm JAB Holdings for Panera Bread Co. (NASDAQ: PNRA).

Unnamed sources told the New York Post that 3G is “definitely looking at Panera and has the capacity to make a rival bid.”

Last week, JAB agreed to pay a 20% premium to Panera’s closing price on March 31, or $315 per share in cash. The total value of the acquisition is around $7.5 billion.

Berkshire Hathaway and 3G Capital have teamed up on several prior bids. Buffett’s company helped 3G purchase H.J. Heinz in 2013 and last year helped finance the $40 billion merger between Heinz and Kraft. The partners also created Restaurant Brands International Inc. (NYSE: QSR) when it merged Burger King and Canadian chain Tim Horton’s.

Earlier this year Kraft Heinz Foods Co. (NYSE: HNZ), in which 3G and Berkshire own 50%, put together a plan to acquire European food giant Unilever PLC (NYSE: UN) for a tidy $143 billion. Unilever dismissed the offer as insufficient and Kraft Heinz subsequently withdrew it.

JAB Holdings acquired Krispy Kreme Doughnuts last year for about $1.35 billion and the year before that paid $13.9 billion for Keurig Green Mountain. JAB owns other well-known consumer brands such as Einstein Noah bagels, Peet’s Coffee, Caribou Coffee, Stumptown Coffee and a controlling interest in Coty Inc. (NYSE: COTY).

About 45% of Panera’s stock is held by its 10 largest institutional investors. The top 10 mutual fund owners own another 25%. Other institutional investors and funds own about 21%, but none owns more than 9.43% and the large number of holders suggests that the highest bid will win.

One other difference between 3G and JAB. The former would likely bring in its own management team to cut costs with a cleaver. JAB has already said that Panera’s management would stay and run the company.

Panera’s shares traded up about 0.9% in Tuesday’s premarket at $315.90, which would be a new 52-week high if it holds. The stock’s 52-week low is $185.69.