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HERSHEY, Penn. (


) --


(HSY) - Get Free Report

CEO David West left the confections maker to run

Del Monte Foods

, according to reports, sending the stock lower in Wednesday's session.

Operations chief John Bilbrey will replace West temporarily, and the board said it will "move quickly" to find a permanent CEO.

Investors were jittery about the executive shuffle, bidding Hershey shares 2.8% lower to close at $55.48 in Wednesday's trading session amid heavy volume. More than 4.2 million shares changed hands, compared with their average daily volume of 1.2 million.

Citi analyst David Driscoll noted that West's exit from Hershey's masthead could make the company a prime

takeover target, though he estimated the probability of a sale is only around 10%, up from his estimation of 2%.

Driscoll tapped


(NSRGY) - Get Free Report

or Kraft as likely bidders who may view Hershey's executive changeup as "a good opportunity" to buy.

>> Takeover Targets: Consumer Stocks in Play

Deutsche Bank analyst Eric Katzman noted that executive changes come at an uncertain time for Hershey as the company faces soaring commodity prices for cocoa, sugar and milk -- headwinds that led it to cut costs.

>> 15 Food Stocks Hit by Commodity Inflation

West helped improve sales growth at Hershey since he took over the company in 2007, but has since butted heads with the company's controlling trust, opposing entreaties to counter

Kraft Foods


successful acquisition of



"This is a significant negative development for Hershey," Katzman said. "It will be difficult for Hershey to recruit as capable a CEO near- to intermediate-term."

Wells Fargo analyst Eric Serotta noted that "Hershey is still well-positioned to deliver better-than-expected sales and earnings growth over the next few years, driven by strong momentum from its core brands, new products, productivity savings and international growth."

In late April

Hershey posted a better-than-expected adjusted quarterly profit of 72 cents per share.

Sales jumped 11% to $1.56 billion, also topping expectations.

-- Written by Miriam Marcus Reimer in New York.

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