SNEEK, NETHERLANDS -- An attempt by McLean-based Mars Inc. to buy a premier Dutch candy company has touched off a family feud in this small town.
At stake is the future of the Tonnema company, whose candies have put smiles on the faces of sticky-handed Dutch children since 1903.
Tonnema makes King mints and Rang roll candies, the most popular products of their kind in the Netherlands.
"All these Americans are trying to buy is the brand name," said Hugo Smit, lawyer for Leo Lampe, whose opposition to the sale of the firm has temporarily put the deal with Mars on hold.
Lampe owns 1.5 percent of the company's stock, and wants to buy out his cousins, the De Vries family, to keep Tonnema in Dutch hands.
Mars has offered 27 million guilders ($14.1 million) for Tonnema, which has annual sales of about 25 million guilders ($13 million).
Mars has withdrawn its takeover offer until the end of the legal battle with Lampe, a great-grandson of Tonnema's founder, and Tom Langeler, a spokesman for Mars' Dutch subsidiary, said, "We'll just sit tight and wait."
Earlier this month, Lampe lost a court bid to regain the veto power over the company's affairs that he lost in a recent change of Tonnema's bylaws.
Smit said he would appeal.
Smit said the Lampes and the De Vrieses were on the outs long before the dispute arose over whether to sell the company, which was founded by Nicolaas de Vries and is run by his grandson, Fons.
The Lampes are descended from textile barons who considered the de Vrieses "nouveau riche," Smit said, and as a result, the de Vrieses "have been yelling at the top of their voices, 'Never sell to a Lampe.' "
Smit has accused supporters of the takeover of using "salami tactics" to win over other members of the family. "Salami tactics" is a Dutch term for the gradual slicing away of opposition in a business deal.
Lampe has said he is afraid that a takeover of Tonnema could mean the end of one of the most prized industries in Sneek, a town in the northern part of the Netherlands. "I think the Sneek plant would be closed within no time at all" if Mars got control, Smit said.
Although Tonnema's employes represent only a small fraction of Sneek's 10,000 workers, the company "is very deeply anchored in Sneek society," said city government spokesman Henk van der Winden.
Closing the Sneek plant "would be an enormous emotional loss," he said.