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Nestle Pursuing Haagen-Dazs

October 29, 2001|Bloomberg News

VEVEY, Switzerland — Nestle, the biggest food maker, wants to buy the 50% it doesn't own in a venture that sells Haagen-Dazs ice cream in the U.S., according to spokesman Marcel Rubin.

The Sunday Telegraph in London reported that such a purchase would be valued at $1 billion.

Nestle has the right to take over the venture if there is a change in ownership of Haagen-Dazs. That occurred Wednesday when General Mills Inc.'s purchase of Pillsbury, the owner of Haagen-Dazs, was approved by the Federal Trade Commission. Nestle is in talks with General Mills, Rubin said.

The Swiss company and Haagen-Dazs merged their U.S. ice cream units in 1999 to become No. 3 in that market.

Nestle said this month it bought Suedzucker's Schoeller ice cream unit as it chases the world leader, Unilever.

"We will exercise our call option on this 50% of Ice Cream Partners USA," Rubin said. "We now have to discuss the price and the conditions."

Nestle said last December it was in talks to buy the stake. It has the option to purchase the holding for its agreed value plus $150 million. Analysts at the time valued the transaction at $650 million.

Haagen-Dazs and Nestle formed Ice Cream Partners USA to boost sales, particularly of higher-margin brands such as Nestle's Crunch and Icescreamers, in the world's biggest market.

General Mills also has an option to sell Haagen-Dazs' international business to Nestle.

"It's up to General Mills to decide if they want to exercise this put option or not," Rubin said. "We don't know yet and we won't comment on our eventual interest or not."

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