Mars, Wrigley Create Candy Giant

Wrigley's Big Red and Orbit chewing gums are shown with M&M's.

HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania (AP) -- Mars Inc. has closed a $23 billion deal to purchase chewing-gum giant Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co., the companies said Monday, making the combined business the world's largest candy maker.

The deal brings together household names: Wrigley, a landmark in Chicago where the company began in 1891, and Mars, the privately held maker of Snickers and Skittles and M&Ms -- the candy-coated chocolates that are the world's best-selling chocolate candy brand.

At the end of Monday, Wrigley's stock ceased trading publicly, as the owner of one of the world's most popular chewing gum brands, Orbit, becomes a subsidiary of Mars. Its headquarters will remain in Chicago, and it will take over Mars' sugar candy brands, including Skittles and Starburst, as well as production facilities in Australia, the Czech Republic and Mexico.

Wrigley shareholders will receive $80 for each share after they approved the deal last month. Shares closed Monday at $79.97.

The merger combines companies that have worldwide footprints and are powerhouses in separate parts of the confectionery sector, Wrigley in gum and Mars in chocolate candy. Combined, they will bump Britain's Cadbury PLC from the top candy-making slot.

"Becoming part of Mars opens up a world of opportunity for the expansion of our brands, the growth of our business, and the development of our associates," Wrigley's executive chairman, Bill Wrigley Jr., said in a statement.

The deal, announced in April, includes financing from famed investor Warren Buffett's company, Berkshire Hathaway Inc. Omaha, Nebraska-based Berkshire received a $2.1 billion minority equity interest in the Wrigley subsidiary as part of the deal.

Last year, Wrigley reported $5.39 billion in revenue, while Mars said its revenue is more than $22 billion.

The sale ends more than a century of family control at Wrigley's. Mars, founded in 1911, is still owned by descendants of founder Frank C. Mars, who started the company by selling butter cream candies in Tacoma, Washington.

Wrigley's first brands were Juicy Fruit and Wrigley's Spearmint gums. The company has more than 14,000 employees. Mars, based in McLean, Virginia, has 48,000 employees. In addition to its candy brands it also makes Pedigree and Whiskas pet food and Uncle Ben's rice.

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