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News of a rumored plan to buyout Acosta Inc, Starbucks’ new partner for its product development, manufacturing, and marketing, emerged today.

Bloomberg reported today that Thomas H. Lee Partners LP plans to buy the Acosta Inc. food marketing company from private-equity firm AEA Investors LP for more than $2 billion and that a transaction may be announced as soon as tomorrow.

It is important to remember that SBUX announced in early December at its analyst meeting that it has partnered with Acosta to pursue a direct model approach for its entire CPG channel, effective March 1, 2011.  SBUX assured investors and analysts of a smooth transition following the termination of the Kraft distribution agreement. 

Through its new partnership with Acosta, Starbucks will be responsible for product development, manufacturing, distribution and marketing while Acosta will be responsible for the selling and merchandising of SBUX’s products within the grocery channel. 

This announcement is made more interesting by the fact that Thomas H. Lee Partners also owns Dunkin’ Donuts.  I don’t know the details of the agreement between Starbucks and Acosta, nor do I know if and how a sale to Thomas H. Lee Partners would impact that agreement, but I don’t think Starbucks will take comfort in the fact that Thomas Lee is effectively in bed with both Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts.

Howard Penney

Managing Director