Not since British-owned Cadbury Schweppes PLC
teamed up with
French-owned Groupe Danone SA to make a bid for Nabisco
earlier this year has such a large, traditional American
company been at risk of being acquired by a foreign company.
Fortunately, American-owned Kraft was able to outbid the
foreign alliance and keep American assets American.
This time around, American icon Hershey is the
developments over the past week or so, plus the comments
made by politicians, potential acquiring companies and
hometown folks in Hershey, PA underscore what is at stake
here. We are obviously talking about more than a simple
change of ownership from American-owned Hershey to
Swiss-owned Nestle. Nestle seems to be the front-runner in
the bid to take control of Hershey, followed by
American-owned Kraft and British-owned Cadbury.
It is indeed refreshing to see some of the hidden
aspects of mergers and acquisitions brought to light such as
destabilizing communities, which can wreak havoc on local
economies. The firestorm of community protest has mandated
certain "social constraints" at minimum be considered for
any deal to go through. This does not mean, however, that
the majority of the Hershey community wants any takeover to
occur. It means the community is sending a message to any
proponents of a sale that more is at stake here than just
percentages and dollar signs on a corporate financial
GOP Attorney General Mike Fisher (now running for
Pennsylvania) reportedly had a lead role in propagating the
idea that Hershey should either look to "diversify" or put
itself up for sale in the first place. A grass-roots
campaign in the town resulted in a flood of complaints to
the attorney general, pressuring Mr. Fisher to ask for a
temporary restraining order to block any sale while the
potential impact to the community could be considered. The
attorney general also suggests in the court order that
Hershey may be the victim of "irreparable harm" if a sale
was to proceed.
While Mr. Fisher has been accused of lighting a
fire so that
he could be the one to extinguish it, the fact remains that
he has most likely changed his tune to match that of the
voters who will select Pennsylvania's next governor.
Fisher's switch to opposing the sale has caused some of the
board members of Hershey's Trust Company to reconsider their
original backing of the idea.
With all this going on, it wasn't until today -
30 - that the CEO of Nestle made his first public comments
on the proposed deal, and he didn't sound too positive that
the sale was likely. Peter Brabek, Nestle's chief executive,
said he thought the sale would likely be blocked because of
antitrust concerns since Hershey has 43% of the U.S.
chocolate market and Nestle has 12%. According to the Swiss
executive, "It's fantasy to think that you would get
regulatory approval in the U.S. to combine 43% with 12%."
One can only hope that the town of Hershey and
Pennsylvania citizens will keep up the pressure to block the
sale of this American icon. Even if the sale ends up going
through, it's a good chance to show that the impact to Main
Street is just as important, if not more so, than the impact
to Wall Street.