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Warren Buffett — the overlooked target in Amazon's grocery war

The grocery war Jeff Bezos and Amazon have started with the planned acquisition of Whole Foods has some obvious targets, including Wal-Mart, Costco and Target. One not-so-obvious quarry is also huge: Warren Buffett.

Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway is a big holder of supermarket and food company stocks.

Among Berkshire's relatively selective portfolio of publicly traded stocks are longtime holdings Wal-Mart and Costco, as well as Kraft Heinz (Buffett used to own tons of Kraft shares before engineering a deal to create Kraft Heinz), Coca-Cola and Mondelez, one of the world's largest snack companies.

Berkshire also owns McLane Co., a major food distributor it purchased in 2003 directly from Wal-Mart, the low-cost grocery company with which Amazon is now most seen as being on a "collision course."

Buffett's Kraft Heinz stake — 26 percent of the company's shares — is valued at $29 billion, and his Coke stake, representing 9 percent of its shares, is valued at $18 billion. Berkshire also has $100 million in Wal-Mart shares, which the company has reduced exposure to over time, and $700 million in Costco shares. It also has a very small $26 million holding in Mondelez.

Buffett sang the praises of Bezos at Berkshire's annual meeting earlier this year, commenting that what the Amazon founder has done across multiple sectors is "remarkable." He called Bezos "the most remarkable business person of our age," and said he missed the boat on Amazon, using one word to explain his decision not to buy the stock: "stupidity."

Lawrence Cunningham, a law professor at George Washington University and author of the book "Berkshire Beyond Buffett," said the rise of Amazon puts one in mind of a variation on Buffett's "ovarian lottery" philosophy — that the world from 1975 to 2020 or so belonged to Buffett's skills, while the world of 1995 to 2045, say, may belong to Bezos'.

"That's how I took Warren's comments at the annual meeting," Cunningham said. "Jeff can see and steer how tech reshapes industries in ways Warren probably cannot. Warren long avoided tech; Jeff makes tech unavoidable."

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