Fremont Wines and Dines with Anton –

Little-known San Francisco-based deal shop Fremont Partners is starting to make headlines with its recent hire of John Anton as its advisory director.

The addition of Anton, former chief executive officer of chocolate maker Ghirardelli Chocolate Co. before it was acquired by Hicks, Muse, Tate & Furst, will give the firm more exposure and investment opportunities in the food and beverage industry. Anton was also involved in the leveraged buyout of Carlin Foods Corp. with Prudential Securities and Thomas H. Lee Co. In addition, he has also held executive positions at other food-related companies, including Ralston Purina, Nabisco Brands Co. and Carlin Foods Corp., a sales and marketing company with a focus in the dairy, baking and food service industries.

“He’s a unique individual in that he has both operating experience as well as significant deal experience – a powerful combination that not many operators possess,” said Mark Williamson, a managing director at Fremont Partners. “With Jack’s experience and industry knowledge, he could have teamed up with anyone, but chose Fremont Partners because he was comfortable with our people, our style of operations and the historical success that we’ve had.”

The “style of operations” that Fremont employs is similar to that of other middle-market buyout shops in that it deploys its operating partners to work with the management teams in creating a robust business post-investment.

“We’re not just financial engineers who buy businesses and slap some leverage on them,” Williamson said. “We work really hard with management teams to build long-term sustainable value in their businesses post-investment. So having an operator like Jack is very consistent with our philosophy and business model.”

The operationally-oriented Fremont is bullish on the food and beverage industry because of its stability and fragmented nature. “Overall, it is a stable industry which makes it very interesting in uncertain economic times,” Williamson said. “The industry is still relatively fragmented compared to other consumer goods industries, and we think there is still substantial consolidation to be done. There is a window of opportunity to make some interesting acquisitions here because the major consolidators are pretty occupied with large acquisitions that they have recently completed.”

Williamson added that the firm will be buying assets in the six to seven times cash flow range with its equity commitment sweet spot in the range of $75 million to $100 million.