Maybe it was the garlic salt, a special package direct from the annual Gilroy Garlic Festival in California.

Or perhaps it was the free package of popcorn, with premeasured popping oil that was passed out -- along with the garlic salt and other gifts -- to every shareholder attending the annual meeting of McCormick and Co.

Or perhaps it was the speech by McCormick Chairman Harry K. Wells, who made the corporate independence of the Baltimore flavoring conglomerate sound as vital as the defense of America.

Whatever the reason, if McCormick's stockholders were upset over the company's rejection of a takeover bid by Sandoz Ltd. of Switzerland, they didn't show much evidence of it yesterday.

In an hour-and-a-half session, Wells was asked only half a dozen questions about the running fight between Sandoz and McCormick that's been under way since last October.

A handful of stockholders applauded when one person asked Wells if McCormick was prepared to give investors the $37 a share that Sandoz offered to pay for the company. "No," replied Wells.

Far more people clapped their approval -- giving Wells a two-minute ovation -- when the chairman defended the company's rejection of the offer, pledged McCormick's continued independence and attacked Sandoz.

During the meeting at Hunt Valley, Md., Wells questioned whether Sandoz Ltd. was bent on taking McCormick's money back to its Swiss bank accounts.

"The drug and food businesses do not mix well, "Wells said, nothing that McCormick dropped out of the drug business several years ago. "The drug field is frequently plagued by exposure to bad publicity."

"Problems of drug abuse and of diversion of potent drugs to illegitimate channels are well-known," Wells added. "This is particularly true of the psychoactive drugs, such as some of the ergot derivatives."

Sandoz's research on ergot derivatives lead to the development of LSD, one of the most widely abused drugs of the 1960s.

Wells warned that if Sandoz acquires McCormick, the Baltimore firm's profits might be "repatriated to Switzerland."

"We have no way of knowing how they dispose of earnings from their U.S. operations," he added. "Should McCormick be a cash cow for Sandoz operations elsewhere in the world? We think not."

Wells told a shareholder the company has no present plans to change its system of two classes to stock, voting and non-voting. Less than 20 percent of McCormick's shareholders get to vote on corporate matters. Most of the voting stock is owned by company executives, and all the members of the board of directors work for McCormick. e

Wells said it is well known the two classes of stock were created to prevent any outsider from taking over McCormick.

Defending board members against Sandoz charges they have a conflict of interest that prevents them from evaluating the takeover offer, Wells said McCormick board members "could have been wealthy men" if they had accepted the Sandoz offer.