"That concept of taking (Skippy) out of the jar echoes a similar concept we're trying with taking Spam out of the can," Ettinger said in an interview.
For now, there are 11 varieties of Skippy in the U.S., including low-fat and natural varieties. Hormel noted that Skippy is the leading brand in the faster-growing subcategory of natural peanut butter. Overall, Skippy has about 17 percent of the U.S. peanut butter market, according to Euromonitor International. Jif, owned by J.M. Smucker Co., is the largest brand with about 37 percent of the market.
Although Skippy is "a good fit" with its other packaged foods, Ettinger said Hormel still needs to figure out how to handle its merchandising of Skippy in stores, such as whether to display it next to other items.
Swings in peanut butter prices have made growth volatile in recent years, but Skippy sales on average have increased about 4 percent annually on a normalized basis, according to a spokesman for Unilever. The American Peanut Council estimates that Americans eat an average of nearly 4 pounds of peanut butter a year.
Hormel expects annual Skippy sales of about $370 million, with almost $100 million of that from outside the U.S. Ettinger expects Skippy sales to grow in the low single digits domestically and in the high single digits overseas.
The deal includes Skippy manufacturing plants in Little Rock, Ark., and Weifang, China. Hormel Foods Corp. said that it expects the deal to modestly add to its fiscal 2013 results and add 13 cents to 17 cents per share to fiscal 2014 earnings.
The transaction, which still needs regulatory approval, is expected to close in two parts. The domestic closing is expected by the second quarter and the China business is expected to close by the end of the year.