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Wednesday, 12 April, 2000, 13:10 GMT 14:10 UK
Unilever scoops up Ben & Jerry's

Unilever is to buy Ben & Jerry's ice cream company in a deal worth 203m ($326m).

There had been speculation for some time that all or part of the business could be sold off.

Started in an old petrol station in Vermont in 1978, the company grew into a quirky business with a strong social dimension.

But lately differences have arisen between Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield about the direction the company should take, although the old schoolfriends deny they have fallen out.

"While we and others certainly would have pursued our mission as an independent enterprise, we hope that, as part of Unilever, Ben & Jerry's will continue to expand its role in society," they said in a statement.

'Unique consumer message'

The Anglo-Dutch consumer giant Unilever was always seen as a possible buyer.
Ben & Jerry's tub
Flavours include Chubby Hubby, Chunky Monkey and Cherry Garcia
The company said the purchase "takes us into the super premium category for the first time".

It already owns the Walls brand, as well as Good Humor and Breyers in the US.

"Ben & Jerry's is an incredibly strong brand name with a unique consumer message. We are determined to nurture its commitment to community values."

Unilever is paying $43.6 a share, a big premium over Tuesday's closing share price of $34.93.

In 1999, Ben & Jerry's had sales of $237m, 90% of which were in North America. Operating income was $13.5m.

Diet drinks

The move comes just hours after the Unilever announced it was buying Slim-Fast foods for 1.44bn ($2.3bn).

Slim-Fast, best known for its powdered diet drinks, holds 45% of the American market for health and weight loss foods.
Slim-Fast products
Last year Slim-Fast sales were up 21%
Unilever said this was the fastest growing sector in the US health food business.

Unilever chairman Niall FitzGerald said: "Slim-Fast fits perfectly into our vision for the development of our foods business.

"It brings us a world-class brand and a product range growing at over 20% per annum."

Unilever recently decided to concentrate on 400 key brands and dispose of a further less profitable 1200 brands.

Its existing range of brands includes Persil washing powder and Oxo.

The company plans to expand the Slim-Fast brand outside of the US where up until now its sales have been relatively small.

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See also:

22 Feb 00 | Business
Unilever changes tack
22 Feb 00 | Business
Unilever: A company history
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