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McCormick in the market for European food firm


With the objective of tapping into the German market, McCormick & Co. Inc. hopes to acquire a major European food company sometime later this year, the company's chairman and chief executive said at the company's annual meeting yesterday.

Besides being the second-largest spice market in the world, after the United States, Germany would also be a "gateway" to business in Eastern Europe, Bailey A. Thomas said after the meeting.

He declined to identify which companies McCormick was talking to, saying numerous options were being explored.

"Everybody is a candidate," Mr. Thomas said, adding that the company was looking for "brand leadership" in any acquisition. "We want a company that knows how to do business in Europe," he said.

International business, which accounts for about 21.5 percent of McCormick's annual revenues, has grown by 54.6 percent over the past five years, to $317 million in 1992.

Even though McCormick has had a small company in Germany for 20 years, the company's share of the market is "virtually nothing," Mr. Thomas said. McCormick does have a substantial share in England and a strong presence in Spain and Finland, he said.

Yesterday's annual meeting was Mr. Thomas' first as chairman of the Sparks-based spice and flavorings company. He succeeded Charles P. "Buzz" McCormick Jr., who retired as chairman Jan. 1.

The company also announced yesterday a quarterly dividend of 11cents per common share -- the same as the previous quarter -- payable April 12 to shareholders of record March 31.

While Mr. Thomas and other officers recited the company's common litany of ever-increasing earnings over the past five years -- alongwith stock prices that have increased fivefold -- there were a few sour notes. Earnings per share for the first quarter increased by 4.8 percent -- less than the company's expectations -- and McCormick's stock price has dropped 19 percent in the past three months.

"What concerns some of the investors who follow us is whether we have the ability to continue to achieve our earnings growth objective," Mr. Bailey said. "It is important to tell you there has been no fundamental change in the business and that we do expect 1993 to be another record year."

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