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General Mills to buy Annie’s for $820 million in cash

Annie’s Homegrown, the organic food company known for its mac and cheese and earthy vibe, is joining the General Mills empire.

General Mills, whose stable of brands includes Pillsbury, Cheerios, Haagen-Dazs and Nature Valley, said on Monday that it had agreed to buy Annie’s for about $820 million in cash, in a bet on shoppers’ continued demand for natural and organic foods.

The price of $46 a share is a 51 percent premium over Annie’s 30-day average closing price as of Friday, Annie’s said. General Mills plans to finance the deal through borrowing. Analysts had speculated this summer that Annie’s could be acquired.

Shares of Annie’s shot up about 37 percent in trading after the stock market closed on Monday after closing at $33.51.

Annie’s, whose logo is a smiling bunny, makes a line of mac and cheese products as well as pizzas, salad dressings, crackers and other snacks. The company, which was founded in 1989, went public in 2012 after being acquired by the private equity firm Solera Capital.

“Consumers know and trust Annie’s purpose-driven culture and authentic brand,” Jeff Harmening, the chief operating officer for General Mills United States retail business, said in a statement. “We believe that combining the Annie’s product portfolio and go-to-market capabilities with General Mills’ supply chain, sales and marketing resources will accelerate the growth of our organic and natural foods business.”

Annie’s emphasized that it would stay true to its values of healthy food and an environmentally conscious business. And it said it would continue to be based in Berkeley, California.

—William Alden, The New York Times

Home Depot confirms hack

Home Depot confirmed Monday that hackers broke into its store payments systems, in what could be the largest known breach of a retail company’s computer network.

The retailer said the exact number of customers affected was still not clear. But a person briefed on the investigation said the total number of credit cards stolen at Home Depot could top 60 million.

By comparison, the breach last year at Target, the largest known attack to date, affected 40 million cardholders.

The Home Depot intrusion may have affected any customer at Home Depot stores in the United States and Canada from April to early last week, said Paula Drake, a company spokeswoman. Customers at Home Depot’s Mexico stores were not affected, nor were online shoppers at HomeDepot.com.

Debit card personal identification numbers were not taken, she said.

Home Depot has not yet confirmed details of the breach, Drake said.

But security experts anticipate the Home Depot episode could eclipse the retail hack at Target last year.

Home Depot operates 1,977 stores in the United States and 180 in Canada. That is about 200 more than Target operated when it was compromised.

Home Depot said it would offer free identity protection and credit monitoring services to any customer who had used a credit or debit card at any of its affected stores.

“Honestly, Home Depot is in trouble here,” said Eric Cowperthwaite, vice president of Core Security, an Internet security consulting company. Cowperthwaite noted that it was a blogger, Brian Krebs, not the company, that first reported the breach.

“This is not how you handle a significant security breach, nor will it provide any sort of confidence that Home Depot can solve the problem going forward,” he said.

Last week, before Home Depot had confirmed the hack, customers in Georgia had filed a class-action lawsuit against the retailer for failing to protect customers from fraud and failing to alert them to the breach in a timely manner.

—Nicole Perlroth, The New York Times