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Investors grill coffee roaster
by Ron Orol
Posted 04:26 EST, 7, Oct 2005

Shareholders on Friday, Oct. 7, renewed their campaign to pressure Farmer Brothers Co. into selling the company, hiring food industry investment bank J.H. Chapman Group LLC to seek possible buyers for the coffee maker.

Gary Lutin, president of Lutin & Co., a New York investment bank that has engineered investor opposition to the company, hired J.H. Chapman, with shareholder backing.

Marco Galante and John Loeb, both principals at J.H. Chapman, will lead the review of Farmer Brothers' strategic options. Galante previously advised a shareholder group that was urging Farmer Brothers to arrange a sale.

"Mr. Galante's familiarity with Farmer Brothers, combined with his and Mr. Loeb's broad food industry M&A experience, should now serve the company's shareholders well," Lutin said.

The Farmer family, which owns a 39% stake in the company, has opposed a move to sell it. Under pressure from investors, however, the coffee roaster in 2003 hired Credit Suisse First Boston to explore a sale, among other options. But the company later appeared to move away from efforts to arrange a deal, reincorporating in Delaware and adopting several takeover defenses.

Farmer Brothers spokesman James Lucas declined to comment.

Farmer Brothers' potential worth in a sale is unclear because the company has not disclosed the extent and value of its real estate holdings, which are significant, said a source close to the shareholder group. In late-day activity, shares in the company, which has a market capitalization of $331 million and an enterprise value of roughly $150 million, traded at $20.59.

Possible buyers include industry rivals Peet's Coffee & Tea Inc. of Emeryville, Calif., and Green Mountain Coffee Roasters Inc. of Waterbury, Vt., analysts said. Food service distributors such as Sysco Corp. of Houston and U.S. Foodservice Inc. of Columbia, Md., also could take interest.

In September, Farmer Brothers reported a net loss of $5.4 million for the fiscal year ending June 30, compared with net income of $12.7 million for the previous year. For the fourth quarter this year it had a net loss of $3.7 million, compared with net income of $2 million in the year-ago period.

 

ęCopyright 2005, The Deal, LLC.

 

The Forum is open to all Farmer Bros. shareholders, whether institutional or individual, and to professionals concerned with their investment decisions.  Its purpose is to provide shareholders with access to information and a free exchange of views on issues relating to their evaluations of alternatives.  As stated in the Forum's Conditions of Participation, participants are expected to make independent use of information obtained through the Forum, subject to the privacy rights of other participants.  It is a Forum rule that participants will not be identified or quoted without their explicit permission.

There is no charge for participation.  Franklin Mutual Advisers, LLC, the manager of funds owning approximately 12.6% of Farmer Bros. shares, provided initial sponsorship for the Forum and arranged for it to be chaired by Gary Lutin.  Continuing support and guidance of the Forum is provided by an Advisory Panel of actively interested shareholders.

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