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ConAgra to Sell Seafood Operation

A private investment group will buy the Bumble Bee unit as the food firm pares down less-profitable assets.

May 20, 2003|From Reuters

The tuna-loving bumble bee has found a new home.

ConAgra Foods Inc. said Monday that it had agreed to sell its Bumble Bee Seafoods unit to a private investment group as part of its efforts to pare down less-profitable assets.

Los Angeles-based Centre Partners Management, in conjunction with Bumble Bee's management, agreed to buy the 104-year-old seafood operation for an undisclosed price. Bumble Bee is the No. 2 U.S. producer of canned tuna based on sales of about $500 million annually.

The deal ends ConAgra's relatively brief ownership of the San Diego-based company. ConAgra, based in Omaha, acquired Bumble Bee three years ago as part of a $2.9-billion deal to buy a number of products from International Home Foods.

But ConAgra, which produces everything from Butterball turkeys to Chef Boyardee meals, has slowly been moving away from its roots in commodity products to focus on higher-margin packaged foods.

"This transaction reflects our agenda to alter our portfolio to improve margins and returns," Bruce Rohde, ConAgra's chairman and chief executive, said in a statement. "We expect to continue to make changes to our portfolio, capabilities and cost structure for the long-term benefit of our shareholders."

ConAgra shares fell 11 cents to $21.63 on the New York Stock Exchange.

Centre Partners is a private investment firm that concentrates primarily on companies with $50 million to $500 million in annual sales. Its investments range from American Seafoods, a leading fish harvester and processor, to Duane Reade Inc., New York City's largest drugstore chain.

In addition to the Bumble Bee trademark brands, the transaction includes the Orleans, Paramount and Clover Leaf brands, as well as Bumble Bee operating facilities in California, Louisiana, Canada, Puerto Rico and Ecuador. Bumble Bee has 3,000 employees worldwide.

Bumble Bee shares its home base with the No. 3 tuna brand, Chicken of the Sea, which is owned by a Thai food company. The top U.S. tuna brand, Star-Kist, is owned by San Francisco-based Del Monte Foods Co.

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