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Family behind US chocolate giant consider sale

The third-largest chocolate maker in the US, Russell Stover Candies, could net the controlling family more than $1 billion if they decide to sell the business.
Sugar free chocolate: A Russell Stover money spinner
┬ęPress Association

The third-largest chocolate maker in the US, Russell Stover Candies, could net the controlling family more than $1 billion if they decide to sell the business.

The second-generation of the Ward family are mulling giving up the Missouri-based manufacturer of boxed chocolates, and have appointed investment bank Goldman Sachs to assess their options.

Co-presidents Tom, 57, and Scott Ward, 56, currently head the firm, having taken over from their father Louis in 1993, who himself purchased the company in 1960.

The business is still 100% family owned, but although both Tom and Scott have grown up children, no one from the third generation works at Russell Stover.

Robbie Vorhaus, a company spokesman, said: "There's no sale imminent, [the Wards] are evaluating the current value of the business as perceived by the market."

He said that the family was exploring a sale as a possible strategy to grow the business but was unable to comment on whether the family would consider listing the company.

Russell Stover does not report its revenues, but the figure is rumoured to be in excess of $600 million, and Goldman Sachs estimate the company could sell for as much as $1.3 billion.

When asked how a sale of the business might affect Kansas City, Lee Bolman, chair in leadership at the Bloch School of Management, University of Missouri, said: "It’s always good to have the headquarters of a successful business in town, so Russell Stover has an impact on the economy, but they’re not a dominant presence."

He added the company was only headquartered in the city, and that its manufacturing and distribution facilities were scattered throughout the US, so if the headquarters were to be moved it would only mean the loss of between 200 and 250 jobs and would only have a modest impact on the economy.

Russell Stover started life as "Mrs. Stover's Bungalow Candies," founded by Russell and Clara Stover in the kitchen of their home in Denver, Colorado – they went on to open one of their first factories in Kansas City, Missouri.

After the death of her husband in 1954, Clara Stover ran the company until it was sold to the Wards.

Over the last 54 years the ward family have expanded internationally and bought subsidiary chocolate makers Whitman's and Pangburn's.

It is currently the number one manufacturer of boxed chocolate in the US, and the third-largest chocolate producer behind Hershey's and third-generation family business Mars. 

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