Stokely-Van Camp Inc., trying to sell itself in what its chairman has described as a "controlled auction," still is waiting for other bidders.
Already on the table is a $62-a-share, $170 million offer from acquisition-hungry Pillsbury Co.
Officials of Stokely-Van Camp, the Indianapolis-based canned goods and foods manufacturer best-known for its pork-and-beans and Gatorade, are not specifically rejecting Pillsbury's bid.
But they say that a merger with Pillsbury will raise antitrust problems. On Thursday, Stokely filed suit in Indianapolis federal court, alleging that the proposed acquisition would prove anticompetitive in the canned-beans-in-sauce market.
The antitrust suit alleges that Pillsbury is trying to take over Stokely to "obtain a significant captive customer" for Pillsbury's Wickes Division, a minor supplier of small white beans to Stokely, which has about a third of the canned-beans market. Stokely bought about 5 percent of its small white beans in 1982 from Wickes.
The suit also alleges that the acquisition would injure Stokely's competitive position against Pillsbury's Green Giant Division in certain markets.
A Pillsbury spokesman said he hadn't seen the suit and declined to comment.
Stokely-Van Camp hasn't lacked for suitors in the past few months and its officials hinted there may be other offers coming. Pillsbury's bid is the third offer for the company since November, when an investor group headed by company Chairman William B. Stokely III proposed to buy the company for $55 a share and make it privately held.
Esmark Inc., the Chicago conglomerate, then bought 6.1 percent of Stokely-Van Camp and said it was interested in taking over the company, but it later dropped its offer and decided to acquire Norton Simon Inc. in a deal a week ago.
Pillsbury jumped in last weekend, buying Esmark's stake and enough additional stock to give it an 18 percent holding in Stokely-Van Camp. Pillsbury's offer for enough stock to give it a 60 percent share of the company--and its implication that it sought all of Stokely-Van Camp--ended the bid mounted by Stokely's investor group.
Stokely-Van Camp said it expects other companies to mount bids competitive with Pillsbury's, and the company's stock performance seems to indicate that Wall Street agrees. Stokely-Van Camp closed at $64 in New York Stock Exchange trading Friday, up 75 cents, indicating that traders expect a bid higher than Pillsbury's $62-a-share offer.
Speculation on Wall Street for possible white-knight suitors to save Stokely-Van Camp from Pillsbury is centering on other food companies such as Heublein Inc. and Anderson Clayton & Co. Anderson Clayton, the maker of Chiffon margarine, previously had indicated an interest in Stokely-Van Camp and, ironically, apparently lost out to Esmark in the Norton Simon bidding.
But no alternative offer for Stokely has appeared, and a source in the Pillsbury camp said last week, "People have been saying there are going to be white knights forthcoming. We haven't found anybody."
Pillsbury has been on an acquisition-and-expansion binge in the past couple of years, picking up the Green Giant vegetable business, expanding aggressively in the restaurant business under such names as Burger King and Bennigan's, and last month agreeing to buy gourmet ice cream purveyor Ha agen-Dazs for an undisclosed sum.
Analysts said that an acquisition of Stokely-Van Camp would strengthen Pillsbury's consumer foods operations, which have been somewhat neglected lately in Pillsbury's acquisition and expansion efforts.