General Foods Corp., the country's largest food company, said yesterday it had received an unsolicited takeover offer that its board of directors will consider at a meeting later in the week.
After a 1 1/2-hour suspension in trading following the announcement, General Foods' stock shot up 16 5/8 to a closing price of $101.50 a share. With 47 million shares outstanding, the company's stock market value would be about $4.8 billion.
The company did not identify the suitor, but Wall Street analysts said speculation centered on Philip Morris Inc. and Unilever, the Dutch-owned conglomerate. The offer was believed to be in the neighborhood of $100 a share, about $8 above the selling price for General Foods stock immediately before the company announcement.
General Foods has been considered a likely candidate for takeover raids for months because of its good growth possibilities and strong market position for a number of its food products, according to Wall Street analysts. Like most food companies, it has not been viewed as a "glamour stock" and therefore was seen as undervalued by the market.
"This is in no way a surprise," said William Maguire, an analyst with Merrill, Lynch.
General Foods said in a brief news release that it had received a telephone proposal to negotiate the purchase of its outstanding shares at a premium over its current market value. The company's board of directors will consider "an appropriate response" at a meeting later in the week, the release said.
A company spokesman declined to elaborate. Last week, General Foods said in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that it had adopted several antitakeover measures, including making it difficult for a hostile suitor to use General Foods' pension fund assets to finance a takeover.
General Foods, which has headquarters in Rye Brook, N.Y., produces such well-known household products as Maxwell House coffee, Post cereals, Kool-Aid drink and Jello desserts. It had revenue of $9.2 billion last year and net income of $324.9 million.
A spokesman for Philip Morris declined comment.