Food Industry: Hershey rejects bid to create a mega company


Chocolate giant Hershey has rejected a takeover bid that would have created the world's largest candy maker, a rare rebuttal in a food industry increasingly marked by mega-deals.

Mondelez International, the maker of Cadbury chocolates and Oreo cookies, offered nearly $23 billion in cash and stock to buy America's biggest chocolate conglomerate.

But Hershey, known for its Kisses and Kit Kats, announced Thursday that its board of directors had unanimously rejected the bid, saying they "determined that it provided no basis for further discussion." Mondelez representatives did not immediately respond.

The deal would have combined the world's second-largest candy company, a Kraft Foods spin-off with little business in the United States, with one of the quintessential American brands, whose founding chocolatier's name adorns theme parks, boarding schools and a small Pennsylvania town calling itself "the sweetest place on earth."

Stock soars

Hershey stock soared as much as 20 percent Thursday to $118, a record high, following news of the bid, first reported by the Wall Street Journal. Company shares are now worth 140 times what they first sold for in 1978. Mondelez stock climbed about 6 percent, to $45.

"This is a highly ambitious move by Mondelez given the symbolic status of the Hershey brand in the U.S.," said Jack Skelly, a food analyst with market researcher Euromonitor.

Hershey's rejection may not mark the end of any such deal, Skelly added. "Mondelez is nothing if not dogged in its approach to such takeovers."

Food conglomerates have increasingly bought or absorbed rivals in hopes they can save money by sharing ingredients and streamlining production. Ketchup giant H.J. Heinz and Kraft Foods Group, two of America's most iconic food brands, merged last year to create Kraft Heinz, one of the world's biggest food empires.

Mondelez's largely international business would have also found a close complement in Hershey, which makes 85 percent of its sales in North America. Hershey made a third of the chocolates sold in America last year, garnering $6 billion in sales of Almond Joys, Reese's and other sweets, industry data show. The company also commands a strong business in snacks, a market that is expected to grow 2 percent every year in the U.S., reaching $40 billion by 2019, Euromonitor estimated last year.

Though the food business is increasingly dominated by multinational brands, Hershey's sweets still reveal strong ties to the regions where they first took shape. One of the best-selling markets for Lancaster Caramel Crèmes is Lancaster, Pa., where Milton Hershey launched his first successful candy company and began experimenting with coating caramels in chocolate, according to sales data provided to the Washington Post last year. York Peppermint Patties, the company said, still sell extraordinarily well.


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