Prepared Foods November 29, 2004 enewsletter

Hershey Foods Corp., looking to take a bigger bite out of the non-candy snack industry, has agreed to buy Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Corp., a Hawaii-based producer of nuts and cookies.

Hershey will pay $112.4 million and assume $17.6 million in debt from Mauna Loa, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Hershey said it expects to complete the acquisition of Mauna Loa -- which has annual sales of $80 million and a 40% share of the market for macadamia nuts -- by the end of the year from The Shansby Group, a private equity investment firm.

"The acquisition is consistent with our strategy of building market-leading brands," said Hershey spokeswoman Stephanie Moritz, adding that Mauna Loa's "proven extendibility in snacks and cookies will strengthen Hershey's presence in the broader snack market."

Last month, Hershey announced plans to nibble at the $6 billion-a-year cookie industry in December, when it will begin selling four brands of chocolate-dipped cookies. Those cookies -- Hershey's with Almonds, Reese's, Almond Joy and York Peppermint Patties -- will be sold in single-serving packages.

Mauna Loa's line of macadamia nuts, nut-based candies and cookies will help Hershey -- the nation's biggest candy maker -- expand beyond candy, said Richard H. Lenny, chairman and CEO.

"We're excited about the opportunity to unlock Mauna Loa's immense growth potential as we leverage Hershey's expertise in product innovation, nut processing, logistics and selling," Lenny said in a news release.

Mauna Loa, based in Hilo, Hawaii, is the island group's largest buyer and processor of macadamia nuts.