Privately-held candy conglomerate Mars Inc. is selling its U.S. private-label pet care business, known as Exclusive Brands (EB), to private equity firm Arbor Investments. The deal allows Marsto focus on growing its branded portfolio, including iconic favorites, such as Pedigree, Iams, Greenies,” says Mark Johnson, regional president, Mars Petcare North America. Mars is best known for its popular candy brands, such as M&M’s, Skittles, Snickers and Twix. For Arbor, the deal builds on prior investments in Meow Mix and Freshpet. “Pet has been a priority for us,” explains Arbor senior operating partner Tim Fallon. “EB provides us with a proven platform for both internal and acquisition-driven growth opportunities.” Founded in 1999 with offices in Chicago and New York, Arbor is a middle-market private equity firm focused on the food and beverage sector. Consumers treat pets increasingly as family members, making the pet care market attractive to private equity firms and strategic buyers. Recent deals include: General Mills Inc. (NYSE: GIS) is buying Blue Buffalo Pet Products Inc. (Nasdaq: BUFF); Main Post Partners has invested in pet food company Nulo Pet Food; and Olympus Partners has purchased pet products seller Petmate Holdings Co. On the EB deal, Bank of America Merrill Lynch and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP are advising Mars, and Kirkland & Ellis is representing Arbor.

Networking season kicks off with the ACG New England Fall Conference & Clambake, hosted by ACG Boston and ACG Connecticut, held Sept. 17-18, at the Newport Marriott and Newport Vineyards. The event brings together 200 M&A professionals from across the region to foster new relationships and reconnect after the summer. The gathering also provides opportunities to hear updates from seasoned executives on hot industry specific topics, such as disruptive technologies. Featured speakers include: Brian Cooke of Thomas H. Lee Partners; Mary Kathleen Flynn, editor-in-chief of Mergers & Acquisitions; Matthew Hamilton of Summit Partners; Jay Hernandez of Moelis & Co.; Andy O’Brien of Augmenteum Inc.; and Stuart Rose of Mirus Capital Advisors. A private sailboat ride shows off the beauty of Newport Harbor and the Narragansett Bay. For more on other upcoming conferences, see ACG New England Clambake kicks off fall networking.

Deal news
Sycamore Partners-backed Staples is buying office products distributor Essendant Inc. (Nasdaq: ESND) for $996 million. As a result, Essendant is terminating its previously agreed deal with Genuine Parts Co.’s (NYSE: GPC) S.P. Richards business. Essendant supplies office and industrial products to other distributors and resellers. The deal expands Staples’ office supplies distribution services. Barclays, Morgan Stanley & Co., and Kirkland & Ellis LLP are advising Staples. Citigroup Global Markets Inc. and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP are advising to Essendant.

Silver Lake is investing $600 million in AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc. (NYSE: AMC), which operates the largest U.S. movie-theater chain. Goldman Sachs & Co. and Weil, Gotshal and Manges LLP are advising AMC. Moelis & Co. and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP are advising to the special committee of the AMC board of directors. Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP is representing Silver Lake. Read the full story: Silver Lake invests $600 Million in AMC with Wanda retreating.

AE Industrial Partners has acquired Gryphon Technologies LLC, a defense engineering and technical services firm. The PE firm will combine the target with CDI Government Services. Kirkland & Ellis and PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP advised AEI. SunTrust Robinson Humphrey and Venable advised Gryphon.

For more deal announcements, see The weekly wrap: Carlyle, Stanley Black & Decker, Stryker.

For coverage of private equity firms that have recently raised funds, see our weekly column, PE fundraising scorecard: Hellman & Friedman and Pine Brook.

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See the full story: Best Buy, Hershey, Nike, P&G and more wield M&A to grow.

Food & beverage M&A offers plenty of mouth-watering deals. Giants Coca-Cola Co. (NYSE: KO) and PepsiCo Inc. (Nasdaq: PEP) update their product lines with healthy offerings, while private equity firms, such as Brynwood Partners, breathe new life into tried and true brands, like Pillsbury. And lots of buyers experiment with meal kits and delivery methods, fueling M&A. Read the full story: 9 food & beverage companies loved by consumers and dealmakers alike.

The energy industry is teeming with M&A activity, as companies seek to improve operations. Hubbell and Ingersoll Rand are among the strategic buyers. Private equity firms acquiring include AE Industrial Partners, Clayton, Dubilier & Rice and Genstar Capital. From providers of “smart grids” to developers of energy management software, Mergers & Acquisitions looks at recently acquired targets. Read the full story: 14 smart energy deals.

Athletes back healthy eating, juice joints, steak houses, wineries and more. View our slideshow: Serena Williams and other athletes invest in healthy meals and more

Why investors like diversity. “Companies that are inclusive and also diverse tend to outperform companies that aren’t,” says investor Lorine Pendleton of Pipeline Angels and Portfolia in this video interview shot at Exponent Exchange, a gathering of 200 female dealmakers. Watch the full video: M&A Insights: Inclusion investing.

Meet Mergers & Acquisitions 11 Rising Stars of Private Equity, including John Kos, GTCR; Ethan Liebermann, TA Associates; Jennifer Roach, Yellow Wood Partners; and Afaf Ibraheem Warren, Siris Capital. See: Meet Mergers & Acquisitions’ 11 Rising Stars of Private Equity.