Irwin Simon, one of the food industry's longest-tenured CEOs, to step down from Hain Celestial

  • Irwin Simon, Hain's founder, was the second-longest tenured CEO of a packaged food company.
  • Hain has been under pressure from activist investor Enaged Capital.
  • Takeover speculation has swirled around the company for years.
Irwin Simon, CEO, Hain Celestial
Scott Mlyn | CNBC
Irwin Simon, CEO, Hain Celestial

Hain Celestial announced Monday that Irwin Simon is stepping down as CEO, a quarter of a century after he founded the organic food company.

Hain is working with an executive search firm to fill the post, and when a candidate is selected Simon will move on and become non-executive chairman.

The announcement comes as the owner of Terra Chips and Earth's Best baby food is under pressure from activist investor investor Engaged Capital, which previously disclosed a 9.9 percent stake. A settlement with the firm in October put Engaged's founder, Glenn Welling, on the Hain board.

Shares of Hain closed up 0.5 percent Monday, giving it a market capitalization of $3.23 billion. Year to date, shares of the company have fallen roughly 29 percent. It had a 52-week high this past July of $45.61; today it trades at $29.89.

It is likely to once again raise speculation about a potential acquisition of the company. Rumors and potential suitors have swarmed Hain for years, but the company owns a number of different businesses — from tea to meat — making it a hard match for a single suitor.

Simon, meantime, is viewed as having the keys to the company's complexities, as the singular person to have overseen its many deals. That knowledge stronghold had made potential buyers cautious, sources have told CNBC.

Hain has sought to streamline its businesses and is currently in the process of selling its protein unit. Still, the sale of the unit, which includes Plainville Farms poultry and FreeBird Chicken, faces challenges. Like the rest of Hain, the brand can no longer rest on the fact that it is organic as its stand-alone draw to shoppers. The organic food industry has become more crowded in recent years, thereby also making it more competitive.

Meantime, Simon's departure adds one more to the ever-growing number of food company CEOs who have left their roles in the last few years, as pressures on the food industry continue to squeeze the country's largest food companies. Simon had been the second-largest tenured packaged food company CEO, a position now held by Conagra Brands CEO Sean Connolly, who joined the company in 2015.

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