A tale full of sound and fury…

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Related tags: Hershey, Confectionery, Chewing gum, The hershey company, Hershey trust

In a major U-turn, the Hershey Trust has decided to scrap its plans
for the sale of its stake in confectioner Hershey Foods, rejecting
all the bids which had been made. A sound business decision or an
inevitable bowing to pressure?

The Hershey Foods saga has kept the headline writers busy over the last few weeks, with the on/off sale of the business leading to a great many rumours and little in the way of concrete fact. But now it appears that the whole thing has been, to paraphrase Shakespeare, a tale full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

This is because yesterday the whole affair fizzled to a halt with the announcement by the Hershey Trust, the charitable organisation whose stake in Hershey Foods was at the centre of the sale, that it had rejected all the bids for the company and was ending its search for a buyer.

The Trust had sought to diversify its investment by selling the shareholding in the confectionery maker, the largest in the US, but provoked a storm of criticism concerning the possible consequences of a sale on the life of people in Hershey, the Pennsylvania town which owes its very existence to the confectioner.

With the very real possibility of Hershey passing into foreign hands - a joint bid from Switzerland's Nestle and the UK's Cadbury Schweppes was seen as the most likely to succeed - workers at the plant argued that their economic and social wellbeing, so carefully nurtured by Hershey, was under serious threat.

Their cause was championed by Pennsylvania Attorney General Mike Fisher, who successfully petitioned for an injunction blocking the sale until such time as a thorough assessment of the impact of the sale could be completed. The Hershey Trust appealed against the injunction, but had received no indication as to when that appeal might be heard.

In any case, that is something of a moot point now that the sale will not go a head as planned. "The trust board has rejected all the bids that have been received,"​ spokesman Rick Kelly told reporters yesterday. "It is asking the company to end the process of exploring a sale."

Further details of the Trust's decision are expected later today when representatives of the charity meet with reporters, and Kelly declined to comment on how many bids had been received and from whom. However, the Wall Street Journal​ claims that sources close to the company told it that the Hershey board had planned to meet today to accept an offer from chewing gum maker Wrigley, worth around $12.5 billion (€12.8bn).

Wrigley had been linked to the Hershey deal since the beginning, and while most observers believed a Nestle bid more likely, Wrigley's offer was thought to be more politically correct - it is an American firm, after all. The WSJ reports that Wrigley had agreed to keep the Hershey name and all the confectioner's production sites open as part of its offer.

But in the end the Trust decided that the easiest and simplest option was to scrap the sale entirely - it does not need to sell the shares to raise cash, as it is already hugely profitable - and avoid the flack. But the spectre of a possible sale of Hershey still remains, and workers at the company are unlikely to sleep easily for a while to come.

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