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Nestle Wants to Buy Haagen-Dazs

VEVEY, Switzerland (AP) _ Swiss food and beverages giant Nestle SA said Monday it is interested in taking full control of the Haagen-Dazs ice cream business by buying the 50 percent stake owned by its partner in the venture, Pillsbury Co.

The deal could strengthen Nestle's position against rival Unilever in the U.S. ice cream market.

``We have always said the Haagen-Dazs business is of interest to us,'' Nestle spokesman Francois-Xavier Perroud said.

Analysts have estimated a deal could be worth $650 million. Perroud declined to comment on the amount or say when the takeover might be finished.

Nestle and Pillsbury currently own Haagen-Dazs through their 1999 joint venture Ice Cream Partners, but Nestle has an option to buy the entire operation should Pillsbury's ownership change, Perroud said.

Last week the U.S. government approved General Mills' purchase of Pillsbury from Britain's Diageo PLC.

Nestle said last December that it had decided to exercise its takeover option and was discussing conditions. Perroud declined to comment Monday on how talks were going.

Nestle's ice cream operations are part of a division that generates about a quarter of group sales. The group's biggest division in terms of sales and profitability is beverages.

Unilever is a main Nestle rival in the ice cream market with brands like Breyers, Klondike bars, Ben & Jerry's and Good Humor.
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