HEINZBaked beans and ketchup giant Heinz is being sold to US billionaire Warren Buffett in a deal worth 28 billion US dollars (£18 billion).

Mr Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway fund will acquire Heinz with backing by investment firm 3G Capital, adding the 144-year-old food group to a shares portfolio of famous names including Fruit of the Loom, Kraft, Tesco and Walmart.

Heinz said the deal was "historic" and claimed it was the largest so far in the food industry. Meanwhile, union officials representing thousands of UK workers employed by Heinz are seeking assurances about UK jobs.

Unite national officer Jennie Formby said: "Whilst we recognise the commitment given by Berkshire Hathaway that it will be business as usual following the surprise change of ownership announced today, the 3,000 Unite members who work for Heinz in the UK will want more detailed assurances that their jobs and sites will remain secure.

"Unite will be seeking an early meeting with senior management to allow us to explore in greater detail what impact, if any, this acquisition will have for the UK business."

The acquisition marks the latest in a series of mammoth takeovers amid a surge in global dealmaking. On Thursday American Airlines and US Airways also announced an 11 billion dollar (£7 billion) merger to create the world's biggest airline. And Virgin Media last week agreed a £10 billion takeover by US cable giant Liberty Global just a day after computer group Dell said it was being bought back by founder Michael Dell in a 24.4 billion dollar (£16 billion) deal that sees it leave the stock market after 25 years.

Mr Buffett said in an interview on CNBC that Heinz was "our kind of company".

Berkshire Hathaway and backers 3G Capital - the firm that snapped up Burger King in 2010 - pledged to keep the Heinz headquarters in Pittsburgh. In the UK and Ireland, Heinz employs around 2,500 people across its UK headquarters in Hayes, Middlesex, and a raft of food factories.

Its main food manufacturing facility is based in Kitt Green, near Wigan, which is Europe's largest food factory and turns out more than one billion cans every year. The group's other manufacturing sites are at Telford, Worcester, Westwick, Kendal and Dundalk, Ireland.

The UK is the biggest bean eating nation in the world, according to Heinz, and it sells more than 1.5 million cans each day. But given that markets such as the UK and North America are saturated, Heinz has increasingly looked to emerging markets for growth. In its last quarter, the company said emerging markets made up 23% of sales.


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