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Ferrero to buy UK chocolatier Thorntons

Italian company Ferrero, maker of the Nutella spread, is to take over British competitor Thorntons, the two companies said in a statement. Thorntons had been struggling during recent months.

The board of Thorntons backed the Ferrero offer of 156.2 million euros ($177.4 million), the British chocolate maker's chairman Paul Wilkinson said in statement Monday.

"Ferrero is a successful global confectionery business with a strong family heritage and as such represents a good cultural fit for Thorntons," Wilkinson said.

"The board of Thorntons therefore has given its unanimous recommendation for the offer from Ferrero."

Ferrero, famous for its

Nutella chocolate and nut spread

, Ferrero Rocher and Kinder chocolates, aims to expand its presence in Britain.

Ferrero lives on

The Italian family-owned business has already managed to secure about 34.5 percent of shares held by Thorntons' management, and is seeking to buy the rest through a mandatory cash offer before July 13.

"Our business was founded nearly 60 years ago out of a passion for chocolate and with a commitment to quality," said chief executive Giovanni Ferrero on Monday.

"We delivered our best ever results in the UK in 2014, giving us confidence that now is the right time to broaden our roots in this important market."

The acquisition is the first large takeover move by the Italian company since its

founder Michele Ferrero died

in February this year.

His death provoked speculation about a possible takeover of Ferrero by larger rivals such as Nestle, Mars and Hershey. However, the company executives have repeatedly excluded the possibility of a sale, saying they would focus on growth instead.

Shares rise

Thorntons employs about 3,500 people and has been making fine chocolates for over 100 years. However, the company has had difficulty keeping up with other sellers of high-end confectionery.

In addition, the management has been under pressure during recent months after an unexpected cut in orders and warehousing problems in the UK.

Shares of the British chocolate maker rose almost 43 percent after Ferrero's bid was announced.

dj/ng (AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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