Harry & David buys Wolferman’s catalog

Harry & David Holdings got a little fatter just after the holidays: The fruit gifts mailer acquired breakfast foods cataloger Wolferman’s from Williams Foods, a privately held producer of dry seasonings and direct marketer of specialty food gifts. Terms of the January deal were not disclosed.

The parent company decided to sell Wolferman’s, “and we were on the list that might be interested,” says Bill Williams, president/CEO of Harry & David Holdings. Wolferman’s sales were about $28 million in 2007, reflecting an increase in the “mid-single digit” range compared with 2006, Williams says.

Founded in 1888, Wolferman’s is an established brand known for its distinctive English muffins — produced using the same recipe since 1910 — and other specialty breads, desserts, and gourmet toppings sold through its catalogs and Website.

The acquisition “is like a piece of a puzzle falling into place for us,” Williams says. “Our lists have great synergies. We have assortments where we can sell English muffins. It’s a great, high-quality brand, has great customer relationships, and is a perfect fit for our core competencies.”

What’s more, “We have terrific infrastructure, and [Wolferman’s] had been outsourcing most of its operations like finance, human resources, IT, or to a third-party call center,” Williams says. “We can do all that ourselves.”

Medford, OR-based Harry & David also has “some capacity since we sold Jackson & Perkins last spring,” Williams adds. It sold most of the assets of the $73.8 million plants merchant, including the catalogs, the Website, the customer lists and the inventory to an investment group in April.

Harry & David Holdings, formerly known as Bear Creek Corp., was itself sold by Yamanouchi Pharmaceutical Co, to private equity investor Wasserstein & Co. in 2004.

Conrad Hock Jr., president/CEO of Williams Foods since 1963, believes the deal will help his Lenexa, KS-based company immensely. “We had quite a bit of interest in Wolferman’s,” Hock says. “I think [Harry & David Holdings] can grow the company very nicely, and we like the people. We’re in good hands. That’s hard to beat.”

Will the deal pave the way for the 79-year-old Hock to retire? “Absolutely not. I’ll go to work and make a living. You retire, you die.” Hock will be staying on for at least two or three years, he says. “We have quite a few licensed brands we’re working with, so we’ll have our hands full.”

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