(Reuters) - J. M. Smucker Co (>> The JM Smucker Company) said on Wednesday it would buy Rachael Ray Dog food maker Ainsworth Pet Nutrition for about $1.9 billion in cash to strengthen its pet food portfolio, and was exploring options for its U.S. baking business, including a sale.
Smucker's deal is the latest in a string of acquisitions of pet food companies by traditional processed food makers and comes on the heels of General Mills Inc purchase of high-end pet food maker Blue Buffalo Pet Products Inc for about $8 billion.
Mars, Cargill and Nestle (>> Nestlé) have also added pet food companies to their portfolio, fighting for a share of the fast-growing $30 billion U.S. pet food market.
U.S. retail pet food sales rose over three times as fast as the 1.2 percent growth in sales of packaged foods last year, according to research firm Euromonitor.
"Ainsworth Pet Nutrition is an excellent strategic fit for our company, as the Rachael Ray Nutrish brand adds another high-growth, on-trend brand to our pet food portfolio," J. M. Smucker Chief Executive Officer Mark Smucker said.
The deal, which the company will fund with debt, is valued at $1.9 billion, excluding an expected tax benefit of about $200 million.
The deal increases Smucker's pet food portfolio to 15 brands.
The company said it expects annual cost synergies of $55 million within first three years and net sales of about $800 million in the first year following the deal.
J. M. Smucker also confirmed on Wednesday reports that it planned to explore alternatives for its U.S. baking business, including a sale.
The baking business, which includes brands like Pillsbury and Martha White, generates about $370 million in annual sales. Bloomberg reported last month that the business could fetch about $700 million if sold.
Bank of America Merrill Lynch provided Smucker with financing for the Ainsworth deal.
J.M. Smucker's shares were up 1.6 percent at $123.70 in after-market trading.
(This story corrects headline and paragraph 1 to say deal is valued at $1.9 billion; Also, corrects paragraph 7 to say deal expands Smucker's pet food portfolio to 15 brands, not 13.)
(Reporting by Nivedita Balu in Bengaluru; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta)