Lindt buys No.3 slot in U.S. market with candy maker Russell Stover

Mon Jul 14, 2014 10:30am EDT
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By Caroline Copley and Silke Koltrowitz

ZURICH (Reuters) - Switzerland's Lindt & Spruengli (LISP.S: Quote) has agreed to buy U.S. candy maker Russell Stover in a billion-dollar deal that makes it the third-biggest chocolate maker in the United States behind Hershey (HSY.N: Quote) and Mars.

Lindt did not disclose the price of the deal that will give it the family-owned firm whose pralines were made famous by the movie "Forrest Gump" - and with it, access to U.S. consumers' rising appetite for higher-quality affordable chocolates.

"It is a billion(-dollar) deal. How much more than one billion I cannot say," Lindt Chairman and Chief Executive Ernst Tanner told Reuters in an interview on Monday.

"We see in America, as in other places, that consumers move from the mass market product to higher-value products. We've seen that in coffee and bread, in restaurants, and now also with chocolate, there's an upgrading under way," he said.

In March, the maker of Lindor chocolate balls said its North American sales should top $1 billion this year. With the addition of Russell Stover, sales in the group's fastest-growing market should exceed $1.5 billion in 2015, it said.

Tanner said price tags for Russell Stover chocolates were slightly below those of its Lindt and Ghirardelli brands, making them "accessible premium products".

He declined to say whether the group still expected to generate double-digit growth in North America after the deal.

"At Russell Stover as on group level, we aim for 6-8 percent organic sales growth," he said.   Continued...

Packages of Diva chocolate truffles of Swiss chocolatier Lindt & Spruengli are displayed during the company's annual news conference in Kilchberg near Zurich March 11, 2014.  REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann