REFILE-UPDATE 1-Buyout fund PEP eyes sale of NZ Griffin's Foods - sources

Wed Sep 7, 2011 3:55am EDT

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* China Bright Food interested in Griffin's Foods

* Asian strategic buyers sounding PEP on asset- source

* Sale process at early stage - sources

* The deal could value Griffin's at up to $750 million-source

By Michael Smith and Stephen Aldred

HONG KONG/SYDNEY, Sept 7 (Reuters) - Private equity group Pacific Equity Partners (PEP) has appointed investment banks to advise on the potential sale of New Zealand snack food business Griffin's Foods, sources familiar with the matter told Reuters.

The deal could value the company at up to $750 million including debt, one of the sources said.

PEP appointed UBS AG and Goldman Sachs Group Inc to conduct a strategic review of the business earlier this year. It was unclear whether the Australasian buyout shop had retained both investment banks for the sale.

The company has annual sales of more than NZ$300 million ($247.2 million), according to its website.

Possible Asian strategic buyers had already been sounding PEP out directly about the asset, said another source, although the deal was at an early stage.

A successful sale would mark the latest exit for PEP, which last month agreed to the sale of New Zealand beverage group Independent Liquor for $1.3 billion to Asahi Group Holdings Ltd . PEP owned Independent Liquor along with Unitas. .

China's Bright Food Group said last month that Griffin's Foods was on its radar as it sought acquisitions to expand in Australia and New Zealand.

Chinese companies such as Bright Food are expanding rapidly as they seek to capitalise on demand from China's growing middle class for wine, dairy and other products previously mainly available in Western markets.

The sources were not authorised to speak to the media. PEP declined to comment.

PEP acquired Griffin's, which makes biscuits and crackers including Milk Arrowroot, Chocolate Chippes and Gingernuts, from Danone SA in 2006 for NZ$385 million, according to media reports. The company was started by John Griffin and his family in 1864. ($1 = 1.213 New Zealand dollars) (Editing by Chris Lewis)