Warren Buffett Is Bad for Your Health

Everything bad for your waistline is good for Berkshire Hathaway

Kraft, Heinz Merger Dissected

Warren Buffett knows you are weak. Even if you hit the gym regularly and demonstrate Buffett-esque discipline with your investments, sooner or later you’re going gulp down a sugary soda and put your money into mac-and-cheese with a bright orange hue.

Buffett believes in bad food, both as a consumer and an investor. While there might be no long-term reward in risky eating, there's relatively little risk in buying best-of-breed junk food holdings—at least if Berkshire Hathaway returns are any measure. Omaha has made a mint on artery-based arbitrage.

Let’s take a stroll down Buffett’s bad-for-you buffet:

  • 1940: Buffett has been a Coca-Cola investor since he sold the stuff door-to-door in his childhood. At the end of 2014, Berkshire owned 9.2 percent of Coke shares
  • 1972: Berkshire Hathaway buys See’s Candies for $25 million
  • 1998: Dairy Queen, which had 5,790 outlets at the time, becomes a Berkshire Hathaway holding for $585 million
  • 2008: Berkshire Hathaway put up $6.5 billion to help Mars purchase of chewing-gum maker Wm. Wrigley Jr.
  • 2013: Buffett pours $12.25 billion into a deal to take ketchup-and-packaged-food giant HJ Heinz private under 3G Capital, a Brazil-based private-equity firm.
  • 2014: Berkshire Hathaway provides $3 billion financing for Burger King’s purchase of the Tim Hortons donut empire. It is getting a 9 percent annual return.

Today, of course, Buffett is back at it again, working with 3G to bring together Kraft Foods Group and Heinz. The deal creates the third-largest food and beverage company in North America—a veritable mountain of ketchup, cold cuts, Kool-Aid, and lots and lots of cheese.

While cutting these deals, Buffet was putting his mouth where his money was. His diet consists of Cheetos, licorice and—most often—Utz potato chips as an important source of vegetables. The even investor is known to drink Coke at breakfast, a meal for which the main event is occasionally ice cream.

When asked about his diet, Buffett has said he aims to eat like a 6-year-old because that’s the age at which mortality is least likely. In terms of investing, his junk-food strategy is even more straightforward: People like to indulge. “No business has ever failed with happy customers,” Buffett said at Coke’s annual meeting in 2013.

Like most koans, however, that little gem makes more sense the longer one thinks about it. Consider health food. It can be fast-growing (see: the current state of kale and Whole Foods circa 2011). But it’s also volatile. Going long on carbs before the Atkins diet hit would have been disaster. Gluten-free has been great in more recent years, but the backlash is building already.

From an investing perspective, sugar and fats are blue-chip stocks–steady, long-term performers not unlike the utilities that Buffett also likes to buy. Burger King has never been mixed up in any kind of health-food trend, and bottled water is about as close as Coke has come to a good-living trend. Kraft Mac-and-Cheese will be paying dividends for decades, just not for diners. Buffett knows this better than anyone because he literally eats the stuff for breakfast.

Plus, Berkshire has a healthy hedge: It's core business is insurance.

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