December 21, 2016 / 9:42 PM / 7 months ago

Hershey names COO Michele Buck as chief executive

2 Min Read

Hershey's chocolate bars are shown in this photo illustration in Encinitas, California January 29, 2015.Mike Blake/File Photo

(Reuters) - U.S. chocolate maker Hershey Co (HSY.N) named Chief Operating Officer Michele Buck as its chief executive and president, pinning its hopes on a company veteran to build on a recovery in demand in North America.

Buck, whose appointment is effective March 1, will succeed John Bilbrey, who said in October he would retire as CEO and president.

Buck, who joined Hershey in 2005, was the architect of the company's expansion into broader snacking categories and oversaw the acquisitions of Krave and barkThins brands, the company said on Wednesday.

The maker of Hershey's Kisses, which rejected a $23 billion offer from Mondelez International Inc (MDLZ.O) in August, had said Bilbrey will continue as the non-executive chairman.

Buck's promotion should not come as a surprise to investors, J.P. Morgan analyst Ken Goldman wrote in a client note.

Observers looking for deeper changes in Hershey's direction and/or culture probably were hoping for more of an outsider to take over, Goldman said. "The writing was on the wall when Ms. Buck was promoted to COO earlier this year."

Hershey said in October consumers were beginning to spend a little bit more confidently than before, with the company introducing new products to overcome weak demand in North America due to changing consumer tastes and growing competition.

Buck may also have to contend with the plans of the charitable trust that controls Hershey. The trust in July reached a major reform agreement with its overseer, the Pennsylvania attorney general's office.

Up to Wednesday's close of $103.17, the stock had fallen 7.6 percent since Hershey rejected Mondelez's offer in August. Hershey shares were marginally down in extended trading.

Reporting by Aravind K and Ankur Banerjee in Bengaluru; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila and Shounak Dasgupta

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