Live Deals: Unilever Steals Meadowbrook’s Ice Cream Dream –

A financial buyer last week dropped its bid to acquire Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Inc., saying the price was too rich.

Following five months of bidding, the ice cream chain went to Unilever NV, the Anglo-Dutch consumer goods conglomerate, which made an offer Ben & Jerry’s couldn’t refuse. Unilever agreed last week to buy Ben & Jerry’s for $326 million cash.

The value surprised many on Wall Street, who were expecting a deal worth not much more than $270 million. Unilever will pay $43.60 per share for all of Ben & Jerry’s 8.4 million outstanding shares. The European conglomerate, which also carries ice cream brand names such as Breyer’s, Good Humor and Klondike, originally offered $30 per share back in December when the ice cream company first announced it would consider buyout offers.

The bidding for Ben & Jerry’s has been fierce with other offers coming from Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream, Nestle Suisse SA, Britain’s Diageo PLC and Italy’s Roncadin SPA (BUYOUTS March 6, p. 8). At the heart of the negotiations for Ben & Jerry’s was which investor would allow the ice cream maker to continue with their socially-conscious and charitable traditions. Previously, Ben & Jerry’s donated 7.5% of its pre-tax profits to charities.

The announcement came just one day after an investor group, led by Meadowbrook Lane Capital and joined by socially responsible business leaders including Ben Cohen, co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s, withdrew their offer of $38 per share. The group feared it would not be able to compete with the tempting offers coming from Dreyer’s and Unilever. Unilever was also included in the investor group although they continued to bid independently as well. The group had hoped to make a new offer.

Unilever also attempts to run its businesses in an environmentally friendly manner, and is involved in education and health initiatives, according to their Web site. “Ben & Jerry’s is an incredibly strong brand name with a unique consumer message. We are determined to nurture its commitment to community values,” said Unilever chairmen Antony Burgmans and Niall FitzGerald in a statement.

Reportedly, Ben & Jerry’s will continue to operate independently with its own board of directors, to focus on operations and their charitable activities.