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Ben & Jerry’s discussing a deal to go private

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SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt. — Ben & Jerry's Homemade Inc. said today it is considering a deal that would make the quirky ice cream maker a private company but denied that a final decision had been reached.

The Wednesday announcement came in the wake of a report in The New York Times that the company's board had approved a deal valued at about $260 million that would leave out one of the company's founders.

The newspaper, citing an unidentified Ben & Jerry's shareholder, said the board last week approved a deal under which shareholders will get $38 a share for the company known for its support social causes as well as ice cream flavors like Chubby Hubby and Cherry Garcia.

The deal could be announced as early as Friday, the newspaper said.

In a statement Wednesday, Ben & Jerry's confirmed there were ongoing discussions and that a "going private transaction" was presented to the board last Thursday.

"There are a number of unresolved issues that would need to be agreed upon before such a transaction could be presented for its definitive approval," the statement said. "Accordingly, there can be no assurance that these issues will be resolved or that such a transaction will, in fact, be approved by the board."

The company was founded by Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield in a Burlington, Vt., gas station in 1978. It went public in 1984.

But Ben & Jerry's has long struggled to balance its social initiatives with shareholder demands for better profits. Company officials said in early December that they had received "indications of interest" in the company and would evaluate them.

The newspaper said Cohen, who owns about a million shares of Ben & Jerry's, would end up with 36 percent of the company's shares in the deal to go private, while Greenfield would retain no interest in the company.

Meadowbrook Lane Capital, a group of investors that describes itself as socially responsible, would have a stake similar to Cohen's, and the remaining 28 percent would be held by Unilever, the British-Dutch owner of Breyer's ice cream and Good Humor bars, the newspaper said.

The report said the deal appears to have caused a rift between Cohen and Greenfield, who was described as unhappy with the involvement of Unilever.

Unilever had reportedly offered at one time to pay $40 a share for the company, which was later increased to $43. Dreyer's Grand Ice Cream, based in Oakland, Calif. had offered $31 a share on Feb. 2, which was topped by an offer two days later from Meadowbrook Lane, which said it would pay $32.