CHICAGO (Reuters) - Kraft Foods Inc CEO Irene Rosenfeld has a simple celebration planned to mark the anticipated completion of the five-month battle for British chocolatier Cadbury Plc.
“I’m going to celebrate by getting a good night’s sleep sometime next week,” Rosenfeld said during a telephone interview from London, as she munched on an iconic Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate bar.
But first, Rosenfeld has more work to do, including a meeting on Tuesday with UK Business Secretary Peter Mandelson, during which she will try to ease concerns about the fate of the 4,500 British jobs at Cadbury.
Rosenfeld stressed during the interview that the rationale behind the deal was to grow the combined company and that it was too early to make specific promises about jobs.
“The discussion of the UK job situation has been very exaggerated,” Rosenfeld said. “We actually expect this will be a net positive for the UK.”
On Tuesday, Kraft said holders of 71.73 percent of Cadbury shares had accepted the Oreo cookie and Velveeta cheese maker’s 11.7 billion pound ($18.6 billion) takeover offer.
While that leaves Kraft short of the 75 percent needed for Cadbury shares to be delisted from the London Stock Exchange, Kraft has left the offer open, expecting to surpass that level soon and complete the job of forming the world’s largest confectionery company.
“We are confident that, given the strong support that we got in the tender, that in the coming days and weeks we will be able to finish the process,” Rosenfeld said.
Rosenfeld described the steps expected to follow:
* After certifying Cadbury’s 2009 financial results, Chairman Roger Carr and the rest of the board of directors will resign in February or March.
* Cadbury CEO Todd Stitzer and chief financial officer Andrew Bonfield will assist Kraft in integrating Cadbury into the world’s second-largest food maker, but will step away from direct management.
* Within 45 days, Kraft plans to name the top executives who will lead the regional and national operations of the combined company, with leadership teams named in the following 45 days.
Kraft also expects to use the Cadbury distribution footprint to sell more Kraft products, while also selling Cadbury products through Kraft’s system.
But Rosenfeld said it was too early to say which products would be sold in which countries.
She also declined to say whether Kraft would eventually take over the manufacturing and the distribution of Cadbury chocolate bars and other products in the United States currently sold by Hershey Co under a licensing agreement.
“It is way premature to speculate about future actions like that,” Rosenfeld said.
However, there is a certain Cadbury chocolate-coated toffee bar that is likely to make its way to the United States.
“I was just introduced to the Curly Wurly and I can’t wait to find that at my local supermarket,” Rosenfeld added.
Reporting by Brad Dorfman; editing by Andre Grenon