Special Report

25 Classic American Brands Now Owned by Foreign Companies

Source: JHVEPhoto / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

20. Burger King
> Founded: 1954, Miami, Florida
> Date first became foreign: 1989
> Current parent company: Restaurant Brands International Inc., Canada; 3G Capital, Brazil and USA
> Product: Fast food

Burger King may not have the same deep roots as some of the other companies on the list, but it is without doubt a classic American brand. Founded in Miami in 1954, by 2013 it had become the world’s second largest fast food hamburger restaurant by the total number of restaurants (after McDonald’s), according to company filings. Still, the road has not been easy, and the company changed hands four times.

Burger King was sold in 1967 to Pillsbury, which in 1989 was acquired in turn by the U.K. spirits company Grand Metropolitan, now Diageo. Diageo sold Burger King to a group of American investors in 2002, which took Burger King public in 2006. In 2010, it was acquired by Brazilian investment firm 3G Capital and taken private. 3G announced a new deal in 2014, whereby Burger King would buy Canadian coffee and donut chain Tim Hortons, and form a new Canadian-based parent company named Restaurant Brands International. After unloading $3 billion worth of RBI shares in 1989, 3G Capital retained a 29% stake, according to an April proxy statement.

Source: RiverNorthPhotography / Getty Images

19. Holiday Inn
> Founded: 1952, Memphis, Tennessee
> Date first became foreign: 1989
> Current parent company: IHG Hotels & Resorts, U.K.
> Product: Hospitality

Traveling with kids is never easy, and it was considerably more difficult – and expensive – before hotels such as Holiday Inn became the norm. In fact, that is what brought Kemmon Wilson, the founder of Holiday Inn, to create the chain back in 1952. At the time, hotels charged extra for his five children. He decided to build 400 family-friendly motels across the country, each within a day’s drive of each other, and each with standardized features, including no charge for kids under 12 that stayed with their parents. The chain quickly grew, expanding to Europe in the late 1960s.

In 1989, the renamed Holiday Corporation was purchased by U.K.’s Bass PLC, which paid Holiday’s shareholders $125 million in Bass stock and assumed about $2.1 billion of debt, according to the New York Times. Interestingly, the paper noted, Donald Trump was also interested in the hotels at the time. After a few iterations, Bass evolved into InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), based on a chain originally developed by Pan Am founder Juan Trippe, in 2003.

Source: jax10289 / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

18. 7-Eleven
> Founded: 1927, Dallas, Texas
> Date first became foreign: 1991
> Current parent company: Seven & I Holdings, Co., Japan
> Product: Convenience stores

7‑Eleven is another American brand nearly a century old that is actually foreign owned. The company can trace its origin to 1927, when John Jefferson Green began selling milk, bread, and eggs from an ice house. Though initially called Tote’m Stores, the name was changed to 7‑Eleven in 1946 to reflect the hours: 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., seven days a week. Today, the global brand claims to have more stores than any other retailer in the world – more than 81,000 across 18 countries.

Japanese company Ito-Yokado Co. acquired about 70% of Southland Corp., the operator of 7-Eleven, in 1991 in a $430 million deal. Following a reorganization where Ito-Yokado became part of Seven & I Holdings, it bought the remaining 27% of 7-Eleven in 2005 in a $1 billion deal.

Source: RobsonPL / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

17. Gerber
> Founded: 1927, Fremont, Michigan
> Date first became foreign: 1994
> Current parent company: Nestlé, Switzerland
> Product: Baby food

“Gerber is deeply saddened by the passing of Ann Turner Cook, the original Gerber baby, whose face was sketched to become the iconic Gerber logo more than 90 years ago,” the company announced in June 2022. Cook was 95 years old, and her face began adorning the brand in 1928. It became Gerber’s trademark in 1931.

It was Fremont Canning Company that began making Gerber baby food in 1927, growing it rapidly into a national brand. In 1994, Swiss pharmaceuticals company Sandoz A.G. completed the $3.7 billion acquisition of Gerber Products Company. Sandoz later became part of Novartis, which then sold the brand to Nestlé for $5.5 billion in 2007.

Source: Courtesy of Lucky Strike via Yelp

16. Lucky Strike
> Founded: 1871, Richmond, Virgina
> Date first became foreign: 1994
> Current parent company: British American Tobacco PLC, U.K.
> Product: Tobacco

The Lucky Strike Cigarettes company was founded in Virginia in 1871. At the turn of the century, American Tobacco Company acquired the brand. The North Carolina company was one of the first to implement cigarette-manufacturing machines. During its heyday, through the first half of the 20th century, Lucky Strike was one of the top-selling tobacco brands in the country. In 1994, British American Tobacco PLC acquired the American Tobacco Company and all its subsidiaries for $1 billion, getting the Lucky Strike brand in the deal.

In 2017, Reynolds American – parent of the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco company, which was founded by its namesake in Virginia in 1875 – was also acquired by British American Tobacco, for $49.4 billion.

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