New Ocean Spray board may rethink Northland offer

03/13/2003 12:00:00 AM
Jim Offner

(March 13) MIDDLEBORO, Mass. — A seemingly on-again, off-again courtship between Ocean Spray Cranberries Inc. and Northland Cranberries Inc. may be on again.

A little more than a week after Middleboro-based Ocean Spray was reported to have rejected an $800 million buyout bid from Wisconsin Rapids, Wis.-based Northland, Ocean Spray voted to replace its board of directors with a new group the company says will be open to “all options.”

Those options apparently include a possible sale.

“They’re looking at all options, but that doesn’t lead automatically to the notion of sale to anyone,” said Chris Phillips, an Ocean Spray spokesman. “They’re not going to rush to that conclusion.”

Ocean Spray rejected an unsolicited bid of $800 million from Northland, although John Swendrowski, president and chief executive officer of the Wisconsin company, said he never got a definitive answer from Ocean Spray.

“Our offer stood open until March 18, and as of this moment we’ve never received an official response from Ocean Spray that says they have rejected it,” Swendrowski said March 10. “We’ve read it in the paper, but that’s about it.”
Phillips said the offer was turned down, but by the outgoing 15-member board.

That’s a big difference, Swendrowski said.

“The new board ran on a slate of exploring all alternatives, and I’d certainly hope that they’d consider our offer an alternative,” Swendrowski said. “It’s the brand we want.”

It’s a time of renewed focus for Ocean Spray. The company, a 900-member cooperative, has 12 members on its new board, down from 15 and 25 in 2000.

“They felt it was a better forum for making decisions,” Phillips said of the smaller board.

GRAPEFRUIT IMPACT

A new board and a possible sale of the company does not imply any changes for Ocean Spray’s grapefruit segment, Phillips said.

“Grapefruit is obviously very much a part of the cooperative, and those growers will be well represented,” Phillips said.

There is little concern for Fort Pierce, Fla.-based DNE World Fruit Sales, nearly 80% of whose citrus shipments bear the Ocean Spray label, said David Mixon DNE vice president.

“Basically, it doesn’t (impact DNE) at all,” Mixon said. “DNE has a brand contract with Ocean Spray, whoever its ownership is,” Mixon said. “And, it’s growing every year.”


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