Sara Lee to weigh buyout offers this week

By Dow Jones Newswires-Wall Street Journal
Posted Jan. 24 at 6:01 a.m.

Sara Lee Corp. will decide its future this week as it weighs offers from Brazilian beef processor JBS SA and a group led by private-equity firm Apollo Global Management LLC and investor C. Dean Metropoulos, people familiar with the matter said.

The private-equity group has submitted an offer for Sara Lee of between $18 and $19 a share and JBS, with the help of the Blackstone Group, has indicated it will bid soon, the people said. Apollo and Metropoulos, a Connecticut entrepreneur who acquired Pabst Brewing Co. last year, are leading a consortium that includes Bain Capital LLC and TPG Capital LP, the people said.

Sara Lee will assess the proposals against splitting off its meats and coffee businesses into two separate companies, the people familiar with the matter said. The board of the Downers Grove-based, company plans to meet at the end of this week to evaluate its options.

The maker of Jimmy Dean sausages likely only would be willing to sell for at least the low $20s a share, or roughly $15 billion, some of the people said. Sara Lee’s stock closed at $18.70 on Friday on the New York Stock Exchange, giving the company a market capitalization of almost $12 billion.

But Sara Lee’s stock has climbed 14 percent since The Wall Street Journal first reported in mid-December that JBS had made an approach. As a result, the board’s expectations may be difficult for buyers to meet, some of the people said.

If the board leans toward a sale, the company probably won’t reach an agreement immediately, the people said, as more negotiations probably would be necessary.

If the offers are considered too low, Sara Lee likely will continue to focus splitting up its main businesses, which then could be sold separately, the people said.

Sara Lee rejected a JBS offer of $17.50 a share and was waiting for JBS to come back with a higher proposal, the people said.

JBS, one of the world’s largest meat processors, has been expanding its global presence. In 2009 it bought a majority stake in U.S. chicken producer Pilgrim’s Pride Corp. for about $2.8 billion. JBS in 2008 purchased Smithfield Beef for $565 million and in 2007 acquired U.S. meatpacker Swift & Co. for $225 million.

Private-equity firms have been on the hunt for bigger acquisitions since financing terms have become more attractive. But a leveraged buyout valued at $10 billion or more has been elusive.

Metropoulos, a member of the private-equity group interested in Sara Lee, is a veteran of the consumer-products industry. He was chief executive of Pinnacle Foods Group LLC, the maker of Duncan Hines cake mixes and Mrs. Butterworth’s syrups, which was sold to Blackstone Group LP in 2007 for $1.3 billion.

Sara Lee’s coffee business, which has been expanding in Europe and Brazil, is among the company’s most attractive assets, with $3 billion in revenue and an operating margin of 18 percent for the fiscal year that ended in June. The meats business had $346 million in income from continuing operations on $2.82 billion in sales.

Sara Lee’s future has been in flux since its chief executive, Brenda Barnes, stepped down last summer after a stroke. The board has searched for a successor but the process has been delayed while the company weighs its strategic options.

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  1. Lisa G Jan. 24 at 8:01 a.m.

    Between this and S-S acquisition, Chicagoland stands to lose to major corporate hq in less than a week.

  2. Jordan Jan. 24 at 10:29 a.m.

    just so you know the headline of the article says “weight” instead of “weigh”.