CORRECTED-UPDATE 2-ADM says in talks to sell multi-billion dollar cocoa unit

Fri Jun 21, 2013 8:35am EDT

(Correcting to show cocoa hit 30-year highs, not all-time highs, in paragraph 7)

NEW YORK, June 20 (Reuters) - Archer Daniels Midland Co said on Thursday it is in talks to sell its cocoa business in a further sign that the U.S. agribusiness giant is focusing on expanding its footprint in the burgeoning global grains sector.

A sale of ADM's cocoa division, one of the world's largest and estimated to be worth $2 billion, would be the second major deal in the industry in just over six months.

"We are currently engaged in discussions about the potential sale of our cocoa business," a statement said. The company is one of the four "ABCD" companies that have dominated the global trade in agricultural goods for decades.

The identity of potential suitors is not known, although the Illinois-based company first sounded out potential purchasers about 18 months ago and has held more discussions recently, the Financial Times reported on Thursday citing people familiar with the situation. The newspaper was the first to report the talks.

Few other details were available, but the move comes as Swiss company Barry Callebaut, the world's largest industrial chocolate maker, finalizes its $1 billion acquisition of Petra Foods' cocoa operations, tightening its grip on the global cocoa market.

Cocoa processors have been hit by weak prices for cocoa ingredients such as cocoa butter, liquor and powder due to a global oversupply.

Prices on ICE U.S. Futures hit two-month lows on Thursday of $2,152 per tonne. That is 77 percent off the 30-year highs of above $3,800 in March 2011.

The move also underscores ADM's shift towards the grains sector betting on growing demand from China, the world's No. 1 wheat producer and consumer.

The company is awaiting Chinese regulatory approval for its $3 billion takeover of Australia's GrainCorp, the largest bulk grain handler on the Australian east coast.

ADM's cocoa and other processing division reported net sales of $3.7 billion in 2012, a touch higher than the year before, accounting for about 4 percent of the company's total net sales.

It said results for the segment declined $57 million to $183 million, making up 7 percent of the company's operating profit.

Cocoa production is still relatively unorganized, with farmers in West Africa, the world's biggest growing region, often operating independently on small farms.

The industry is also under more scrutiny than other food commodities for its environmental impact and sourcing of raw materials.

ADM is one of the four "ABCD" companies alongside Bunge Ltd , Cargill Inc and Louis Dreyfus Corp. (Reporting by Josephine Mason; Editing by Gary Hill and Bob Burgdorfer)

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