REFILE-Maple Leaf looks to Bimbo, private equity for Canada Bread sale

Fri Oct 25, 2013 6:38am EDT

By Greg Roumeliotis and Olivia Oran

Oct 25 (Reuters) - Maple Leaf Foods Inc has launched an auction for its bakery company Canada Bread , targeting Grupo Bimbo, one of the world's largest bread makers, as well as private equity, several people familiar with the matter said.

Canadian food processor Maple Leaf said on Monday it would explore selling its 90 percent stake in Toronto-based Canada Bread, a global company with a C$1.75 billion ($1.68 billion) market value, in a review process that is expected to be completed by early 2014.

Since then, Royal Bank of Canada and Centerview Partners LLC, which are handling the auction, have made initial contact with prospective buyers before sending out detailed financial information, the sources said this week.

Those contacted include Mexico's Bimbo as well as some of the world's largest private equity firms, including KKR & Co LP and Apollo Global Management LLC, the sources said, although it remained to be seen whether they would submit an offer.

The people asked not to be identified because details of the auction are confidential. Maple Leaf, Canada Bread, KKR and Apollo declined to comment. Royal Bank of Canada and Centerview did not respond to requests for comment.

A maker of bread, rolls, bagels and sweet goods, Canada Bread is one of two dominant Canadian bakers, along with food producer George Weston Ltd.

To find a strategic buyer, Maple Leaf would likely have to go outside Canada to avoid competition concerns, Maple Leaf Chief Executive Michael McCain said this week, a move that will eventually require the approval of the Canadian government.

South of the Canadian border, the U.S. bakery industry is dominated by Flowers Foods Inc and Bimbo.

In the event of a sale of Canada Bread, Maple Leaf has said it would use the proceeds to pay down debt, reinvest in its business and return capital to shareholders.

Maple Leaf, one of Canada's largest food processors, has been focused on selling parts of its businesses in an attempt to restructure under a multi-year plan.

The auction for Canada Bread comes three years after the company's board came under fire from activist investor West Face Capital, which criticized Maple Leaf's corporate governance.

In August, Maple Leaf inked a deal to sell its rendering business Rothsay to Darling International Inc for C$645 million. Canada Bread also said earlier this week that it would sell its fresh pasta business Olivieri to Spain's Ebro Foods SA for C$120 million.

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