Lindt poised to acquire Russell Stover

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Lindt, the Swiss chocolate-maker, is close to securing a takeover of Russell Stover, the third-largest US candy company by sales, in a deal that would shake up the country's sweet-toothed consumer goods market.

The two companies are in advanced discussions and could announce a deal as early as next week, according to people familiar with the matter. It is unclear if an exact price has been agreed, but a figure of close $1.4 billion is being discussed, the people said.

The talks are ongoing and no deal is certain, however.

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The acquisition of Russell Stover, which has annual sales of about $600 million, would give Lindt a firm foothold in the US. The family-owned company's products are a staple of the boxed-chocolate market and standard issue for many would-be Valentine's day charmers.

Source: Russell Stover

The Ward family put Russell Stover up for sale earlier this year and have been working with Goldman Sachs, the investment bank, in an effort to find a buyer. The sale process attracted a number of private equity as well as strategic buyers, including Hershey and Godiva.

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As well as its eponymous boxed chocolate brand, the company produces Whitman's and Pangburn's of Texas and has its products stocked at over 70,000 drug stores, card and gift shops, grocery stores and retailers, according to its website. Its chocolates were also the subject of the popular quote from the 1994 film Forrest Gump, in which the lead character, played by Tom Hanks, compares life to a box of chocolates "because you never know what you're gonna get".

Zurich-based Lindt distributes high-end chocolates in over 100 countries and unlike many of its competitors has focused solely on the category rather than pushing into other food products.

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Russell Stover and Lindt both employ the strategy of marketing their chocolates primarily as gifts, rather than tempting consumers into buying from the candy racks at check out tills.

A deal with Russell Stover will allow the company to diversify further beyond the European market where it derives a large percentage of its revenues.

"Over time, we expect Lindt to continue to enter new markets and sign up for new partnerships," analysts at Citi wrote in a June note. Citi projects Lindt will have sales of more than 3 billion Swiss francs in 2014.

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Shares in Lindt, which has a market capitalization of 12.5 billion Swiss francs, have risen 14 per cent so far this year.

Neither Lindt nor Russell Stover responded to requests for comment. Goldman Sachs declined to comment.

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