Snack company Hershey has agreed  to acquire Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker, Inc, one of the fastest-growing premium dark chocolate companies in the United States.

Based in Berkeley, California, Scharffen Berger is known for its high-cacao content, signature dark chocolate bars and baking products sold online and in a broad range of outlets, including specialty retailers, natural food stores and gourmet centres across the country," Hershey said. Scharffen Berger also owns and operates three specialty stores located in New York City, Berkeley, and San Francisco.

"The premium chocolate segment represents a strategic opportunity for Hershey based on increasing consumer demand for distinctive, high-end chocolate and for the antioxidant benefits of dark chocolate," said Richard H. Lenny, chairman, president and CEO, The Hershey Company. "Scharffen Berger's exceptional, on-trend products and entrepreneurial spirit have made it one of the fastest-growing companies in the $1.7bn premium chocolate segment. We look forward to leveraging our extensive distribution network and technology to broaden consumer reach and expand our leadership position in the confectionery market."

"This is a tremendous opportunity for Scharffen Berger," said John Scharffenberger, co-founder of Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker, Inc. "With Hershey's resources we can accelerate our growth and leadership in the premium chocolate segment. Hershey's heritage, values and deep commitment to social responsibility are a perfect match for Scharffen Berger. The acquisition will enable us to preserve the artisanal roots that have made Scharffen Berger so successful, while introducing a wider range of consumers to our unsurpassed, high-quality dark chocolate."

The acquisition is expected to be completed during the third quarter of 2005 and is subject to the customary closing conditions.