Russell Stover sale is definitely a sweet deal for locals

07/14/2014 4:38 PM

07/14/2014 4:38 PM

Bushnell. Boulevard. AMC. Smithfield. Sprint. Now add to that list: Russell Stover.

Once again the Kansas City area farm team has delivered up a star to the business bigs.

As announced Monday, the Swiss chocolate giant Lindt has agreed to acquire Russell Stover Candies, whose operations have been based in Kansas City for more than 80 years. The purchase price: a reported $1.5 billion. Much of that goes to the longtime owners of the closely held company, Kansas City’s Ward family, whose patriarch, Louis Ward, acquired controlling interest in the company in 1960.

The Wards, whose existing wealth this month put them at 124th place on Forbes magazine’s list of the richest Americans, have a long record of philanthropy in the city. Their stewardship of the boxed-candy company — it expanded two decades ago in a merger with the Whitman’s brand — is being duly rewarded, and the family should be congratulated for building a great business with a long-lasting and dominant, mainstream brand name.

The family began shopping the company early this year.

Early indications from Lindt & Sprüngli AG bode well. Kansas City will remain Russell Stover’s headquarters, and its operations in the middle of the country appear to fit nicely with Lindt’s East Coast base in North America and its West Coast Ghiradelli brand.

Lindt called the pending purchase the “biggest and most important strategic acquisition” in its nearly 170-year history.

What’s somewhat curious about all these recent, large Kansas City business deals is that, except for Bushnell, the Overland Park-based maker of binoculars and sporting scopes, the other companies named above are now owned largely by foreign interests.

That’s not inherently bad or good.

In the case of Sprint, signals emanating from its outspoken Japanese chairman might cause concern over the prospects of the phone company’s long-term anchoring here.

On the other hand, Boulevard Brewing Co., AMC Entertainment Inc., and now Stover can benefit from their new owners’ intentions to grow the companies over the long haul while maintaining a major presence in the Kansas City region.

Those who lament the diminishing ranks of local ownership among major companies might take hope from the new Kansas City economy, where outfits like Cerner forge ahead and numerous startups aim to gain traction and grow.

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