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Wrigley shareholders approve $23B sale to Mars

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[September 26, 2008]  MILWAUKEE (AP) -- Shareholders of Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co. have approved the company's $23 billion sale to Mars Inc., a move that will end more than a century of family control as the chewing-gum company becomes part of what will now be the world's largest candy maker.

The deal, expected to be finalized around Oct. 6, joins the company that makes gums like Juicy Fruit and Big Red with the privately held maker of M&Ms, Snickers and Skittles, bumping Britain's Cadbury PLC from the top candy-making slot.

The voting results were released Thursday at a shareholder meeting in Wrigley's hometown of Chicago. Holders of two-thirds of the company's roughly 272.7 million outstanding common shares had to approve the deal for it to go through. The company did not say what percent approved.

The deal, announced in April, includes financing from famed investor Warren Buffett -- who revealed this week that his company, Berkshire Hathaway Inc., will invest at least $5 billion in Goldman Sachs Group Inc., a survivor of the credit crisis rocking Wall Street.

Shareholders at the meeting asked if Buffett's investment in Goldman Sachs would affect financing for the Mars deal. Bill Wrigley Jr., the company's executive chairman, was quick to dismiss any concerns, saying the financing would not be a problem.

At last report, Berkshire had $31.2 billion cash on hand at the end of June.

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Instead, Wrigley focused on the future of the business and its growth opportunities. Wrigley, the fourth-generation family member to lead the business, told shareholders the gum maker respected its past as a family-run business but had to look forward. He called the day "momentous."

The sale ends more than a hundred years of Wrigley's being family run, though Mars, founded in 1911, is still run by descendants of founder Frank Mars.

Wrigley was founded in 1891 by the current chairman's great-great-grandfather William Wrigley Jr. and its first two brands were Juicy Fruit and Wrigley's Spearmint gums. The company was first publicly traded in 1923, he said.

"We must respect the past, but at all times do what's right for the future," he said.

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Wrigley said the company wanted to offer value to shareholders with the deal, which translates to $80 a share, slightly above the stock's closing price Thursday of $79.58, a nickel gain.

The business will be able to grow in new ways under Mars' ownership, Wrigley said, citing potential pairings with that company's trove of products. Wrigley's is slated to take over control of Mars' non-chocolate candy, such as Starburst and Skittles.

"We'll have great new brands in our portfolio and we'll have the resources and critical mass to explore new brands and categories in places that may have been beyond our reach," he said.

He pledged that the company would still have a strong presence in Chicago. The company's towering headquarters along the Chicago River has been a favorite photo shot for tourists for years and the famed home of the Chicago Cubs -- Wrigley Field -- still has the family name. The family was a one-time owner of the team as well.

[Associated Press; By EMILY FREDRIX]

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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