Beatrice Co. said Tuesday that it has retained First Boston Corp. to help sell its four domestic food-products divisions, including Hunt-Wesson in Fullerton.
The other divisions to be sold are Tropicana Products of Bradenton, Fla.; Swift-Eckrich of Oakbrook, Ill., and Beatrice Cheese of New Berlin, Wis.
A Beatrice spokesman said the sale price may be as high as $6 billion for the four units, which will be offered as a single entity.
The proposed sale raised few eyebrows at Hunt-Wesson, where employees have become accustomed to corporate changes and were already aware that parts of the company were available for sale.
"I don't think anyone was surprised by whatever might happen because (Beatrice Chairman Donald) Kelly made it very clear what could happen," said Kay Carpenter, a manager at Hunt-Wesson, which employs 1,500 workers at its Fullerton headquarters and an additional 2,000 workers in manufacturing and canning operations in Orange County. Hunt-Wesson employs a total of 10,000 workers in the United States and Canada, and its products include Hunt's tomato products and Wesson cooking oils.
Kelly announced last year that any part of Beatrice was for sale at the right price, according to Charles Long, a spokesman at Beatrice's Chicago headquarters.
Long said there are no immediate changes planned at the Fullerton subsidiary, and none is expected before the sale, which Beatrice hopes to complete by the end of the year.
The most likely prospective buyers are foreign consumer products companies such as Nestle S.A. and Unilever N.V., which could use the Beatrice units to gain a bigger share of the U.S. market, according to Mary Schoenbrod, an analyst at Duff & Phelps Inc., an institutional brokerage firm in Chicago.
Beatrice was taken private in 1986 in a leveraged buyout led by privately held Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co.
Since then, about half of the company's assets have been sold, bringing premium prices, analysts said.