| NEW YORK
NEW YORK Bumble Bee Foods is preparing a sale process that could value North America's largest producer and marketer of canned tuna and sardines at as much as $1.5 billion, according to people familiar with the matter.
The company's owner, private equity firm Lion Capital LLP, is planning meetings with investment banks in the coming weeks to appoint financial advisors who will run an auction for Bumble Bee, the people said this week.
Bumble Bee has annual earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization of around $130 million and is expected to attract interest from other food companies in the United States and Asia, some of the people added.
The sources asked not to be identified because the deliberations are private. A Lion Capital representative declined to comment.
"In its last conference call with bond investors and analysts, Bumble Bee indicated it would likely be evaluating refinancing options during 2014," Bumble Bee Foods Chief Financial Officer Kent McNeil said in a statement.
"Beyond that, the company cannot comment on any speculation regarding these or other options it may be considering at this time," McNeil added.
Based in San Diego, Bumble Bee Foods produces shelf-stable seafood products such as albacore and light meat tuna, salmon, sardines and clams. Its U.S. brands include Sweet Sue, Snow's, Beach Cliff and Wild Selections. Its main brand in Canada is Clover Leaf.
Founded by a group of seven salmon canners in Astoria, Oregon, in 1899, the company was sold to Lion Capital in 2010 by Centre Partners Management LLC, another private equity firm, for $980 million.
High fish costs and the inability of companies such as Bumble Bee to fully pass these on to consumers through higher pricing have put pressure on the shelf-stable seafood market in recent years, according to Moody's Investors Service Inc.
(Reporting by Olivia Oran and Greg Roumeliotis in New York; Editing by Diane Craft)