H.J. Heinz Company (NYSE: HNZ) today announced that its fast-growing Heinz Foodservice Division has acquired Alden Merrell Corporation, a manufacturer of high-quality, premium-priced frozen desserts for casual dining restaurants and foodservice distributors. Alden Merrell also sells and markets to deli and bakery sections of supermarkets in parts of the East Coast. Terms were not released.

Heinz's Foodservice Division, which represents 17 percent of H. J. Heinz Company's sales, sells branded and customized products to restaurants and food outlets and has expanded at a 10 percent compound annual growth rate in the two years since 1998.

The acquisition will allow Heinz to expand business and growth potential within its existing casual dining customer base, as well as to reach new markets.

``Bringing Alden Merrell into our foodservice business will help us to continue our growth in this rapidly expanding away-from-home business,'' noted Heinz Chairman, President and CEO William R. Johnson. ``Supplying fine dessert products to customers with whom we currently do business will open new markets and provide exiting new opportunities for growth. It will further solidify Heinz's position as a foodservice leader capable of creatively addressing one of the most rapidly growing trends in the food industry.''

Prime areas for growing this new business, according to Heinz, are the aforementioned foodservice customer and deli/bakery operations within full- service supermarket chains. In addition, Heinz may look at the opportunity for cross-marketing these products in other retail food channels.

Alden Merrell, based in Newburyport, Mass., was founded in 1976 by its current owners/shareholders. Its net sales this year will approach approximately $30 million, and the company has shown a steady increase in top-line growth during the past five years. A leading ``custom developer'' and producer of high-quality frozen desserts, Alden Merrell's product line is comprised of pies, bars, single-serve portions, sheet trays, layer cakes, coffee cakes and cheese cakes.

The Newburyport location encompasses the company's headquarters office and a 57,000-square-foot plant. Alden Merrell currently employs approximately 250 people on a full-time basis.

``Alden Merrell brings Heinz Foodservice a new category within our growing portfolio that complements our existing skill set,'' said Jeffrey Berger, president of Heinz Foodservice. ``Both companies share, via various parts of our businesses, a distribution network and customer base. In addition, Alden Merrell and Heinz Foodservice are both focused, growth-oriented business operations who invest in our people. Combined with the strength of our Foodservice sales force, we know we have a win-win combination with this acquisition.''

Heinz Foodservice is one of the largest product suppliers to the U.S. foodservice industry, providing leading away-from-home establishments with condiments, frozen soups, tomato products and sauces, hot-fill food products, single-serve products, among other meal solutions.

``Acquisitions have been the key to Foodservice growth and continue to be a major driver in its long-term growth strategy,'' said Joe Jimenez, president and CEO of Heinz North America. ``We are achieving success with acquisitions in categories that complement the strengths of our organization and, certainly, Alden Merrell meets those requirements.''