05 May 2000

Following rejection of Unilever’s $18.4 billion bid by the Bestfoods board, and the subsequent imposition of a 24-hour ultimatum that would have expired at close of business yesterday [WAMN, 4-May-00], Unilever chief executive Niall Fitzgerald dumped the deadline and decided instead that sweet reason would be a better negotiating tactic.

We will allow Bestfoods time to reconsider its decision not to meet [with Unilever]”, said Fitzgerald. “ Our proposal remains on the table, a proposal which we believe is a compelling one for shareholders. The Anglo-Dutch giant clearly hopes that by allowing breathing-space, the US company’s shareholders will pressurise its board to enter into takeover discussions.

Said a Bestfoods spokesperson yesterday: “We have responded to their offer. Our board has unanimously rejected the offer and beyond that there is nothing more to say.” However, a Bestfoods insider also told the Financial Times that it would not rule out future bids: “We are not saying that we will not consider offers to buy the company; we rejected the Unilever $66 a share offer.”

Meanwhile, waiting in the wings is H J Heinz, with whom Bestfoods broke-off advanced merger negotiations last year. Although refusing to comment on the matter, Heinz is thought to be keen to reopen negotiations

Sourced from: Financial Times