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Wednesday, September 15, 1999 Published at 15:26 GMT 16:26 UK

Business: The Company File

Bestfoods denies merger talks

Heinz products include everything from babyfood to ketchup

Bestfoods has denied reports that it is in talks to merge with Heinz.

The company issued a statement which said that "no significant acquisition or combination discussions are in progress."

Officials for Heinz have declined to comment. "Our policy is that we don't comment on market rumors," said Mr Ted Smyth, senior vice president of Heinz.

Shares of the two companies gained even as Bestfoods denied the report that the two companies were discussing a merger that would create the second-biggest US food company.

The deal could have been the largest US food merger to date, the Wall Street Journal reported, and led to the creation of a food giant, with joint sales of about $15bn ( £10bn).

Kraft foods, with $27bn in sales, is the largest US food company, while Europe's Nestle is the world's largest food company with $52bn in sales.

Heinz is famous for its ketchup, beans and Starkist tuna while Bestfoods is the company behind Hellmanns mayonnaise, Skippy peanut butter and Knorr soups.

Heinz, with annual sales of $9.3bn, is slightly bigger than Bestfoods, which had sales in 1998 of $8.4bn.

Earlier this year, Heinz announced details of a restructuring, which would lead to 3,000 to 4,000 job losses over the next four years. The restructuring aimed to save the company $200m a year.

The company also announced its intention to concentrate on key products such as ketchup, frozen foods and tuna.

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