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Acquisition Talk Boosts Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream

December 03, 1999|Associated Press

Are Ben & Jerry about to sell out?

Ben & Jerry's Homemade Inc., the ice cream company known for its quirky flavors and social activism, said Thursday it has received "indications of interest to acquire the company," at a price substantially above its Wednesday close of $21 a share. Shares of Ben & Jerry's, which have been stock market laggards despite the company's improving profit, soared almost 18% on the news, closing at $24.69, up $3.69 on Nasdaq.

While the Vermont-based company wouldn't name its suitors, Wall Street analysts say the likeliest bidders are three of the company's main competitors in the U.S.--Dreyer's Grand Ice Cream; Good Humor-Breyers, a division of Unilever; and Ice Cream Partners USA, a new partnership of Haagen-Dazs (owned by Britain's Diageo) and Nestle.

Ben & Jerry's rejected an offer from Dreyer's last year. And though it has distribution agreements with both Dreyers and Haagen-Dazs, relations between the three companies have been frosty.

In weighing offers, the company's ex-hippie founders are probably looking at more than money.

"This is capitalism versus tie-dye," said Jeffrey Kanter, an analyst with Prudential. "The highest bidder may not win because what's at stake is the corporate culture."

Ben & Jerry's was co-founded in 1978 by Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, two friends from Long Island, N.Y., who took a correspondence course in ice cream-making before opening their first store in a converted garage in Burlington, Vt.

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