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ST. LOUIS, MO (KTVI)- The Ralcorp Company, the nation’s leading maker of store brand generic foods for supermarkets, has been sold to Omaha-based agri-business giant Con-Agra for about $4.95 billion.  Ralcorp Holdings Inc. stockholders will recieve $90 per share, a 28 percent premium to its Monday closing price. Ralcorp’s stock jumped more than 25 percent in premarket trading.

The combined company will have total sales of about $18 billion annually. The deal is expected to close by March 31, 2013 and needs Ralcorp shareholder approval.

Ralcorp employs around 400 people at its St. Louis headquarters.  Word of the $5 billion takeover blindsided city officials:

St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay said, “It certainly was a surprise. This is something they necessarily had to keep quiet for securities issues. So we just found out about it today.”

Con-Agra first attempted to buy Ralcorp a year ago, but that deal was rejected. The St. Louis company’s fate may have been sealed when a protégé of Carl Ichan got a seat on Ralcorp’s board,  seemingly determined to sell off the company.

Scott Harrison with Argent Capital Management explains, “Kevin Meister, who is an activist shareholder, was appointed to Ralcorp`s board at the beginning of October.

And just like his mentor, Ichan, helped bring about the end of TWA, Meister’s presence may have guaranteed the end for Ralcorp.

But there may be hope for the hundreds of local jobs. Mayor Slay will meet with Con-Agra’s CEO to make the pitch for St. Louis:

“One thing for sure, Con Agra knows and understands very well the importance of the knowledge base here in St. Louis. These are some of the best and brightest here in St. Louis in this business,” says Slay.

Ken Crawford, also with Argent Capital Management, says, “Con –Agra said on the call where they announced the acquisition was that they wanted to grow private label, which is what Ralcorp specializes in.  So I think there’s a fair amount of belief that they could continue to grow St. Louis as their private label headquarters.”

But there’s some discontent. A Boston law firm has already announced it wants Ralcorp’s board, including Meister, investigated to see if smaller shareholders have been shortchanged in the buyout.