This Cheese May Not Stand Alone

Three years ago, Alpine Lace Brands, then named First World Cheese, was riding high, trading at 21, as rumors were flying that the company was a takeover target of Kraft, the giant food company. When no bid surfaced, the stock collapsed.

The stock is now at 4. Some analysts who say the shares are fully valued point to disappointing earnings and a price-earnings ratio of 18.

Big players are moving in, however. The reason: new takeover speculation. One investment manager says RJR Nabisco heads a list of three companies currently eyeing Alpine. He believes that based on projected earnings and the value of the company's 5,000 "slots," or display sites, in supermarkets around the country, the stock is worth $15 in a buyout deal. Alpine Chairman and CEO Carl Wolf declined comment on any takeover interest. RJR also declined comment.

There is also good news in Alpine's outlook. The company has produced a fat-free cheese in addition to its line of low-cholesterol and low-salt cheeses under the label PreMonde Alpine Lace.

The company, which is focusing its marketing on the high-margin dairy products end of the nation's groceries, is betting that earnings and sales will rapidly improve. Wolf sees sales climbing to between $180 million and $200 million next year from 1991's estimated $155 million and 1990's $141 million. And some investors believe the company will earn 40~ a share next year, up from an estimated 22~ this year and 1990's 19~.

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