Sara Lee spins off coffee, tea business

The news calls into question why the company recently acquired several beverage companies.

By Benzinga Jun 1, 2012 10:11AM

By Katey Stapleton

Sara Lee (SLE) has decided its international coffee and tea business can survive apart from its meats, bakery and household business. The company also announced its board unanimously approved a 1-for-5 reverse stock split of common stock after its separation from the coffee and tea business.

The news calls into question why the company recently acquired several beverage companies. Were there plans to buy and sell pieces of the company all along?

SLE has been going through transitional phases, with much of its business being acquired by other companies. In October 2011, the brand's refrigerated-dough business was bought by Ralcorp Holdings (RAH). In November, Sara Lee sold its Fresh Bakery business. In January, J.M. Smucker (SJM) took on SLE's North American coffee and hot beverage business, with tea and coffee acquisitions taking place since then.

With all the pieces of the pie being sliced and served to different companies, it is no wonder the board unanimously approved the reverse stock split.

During SLE's most recent earnings call, the coffee and tea category of the brand, CoffeeCo, saw strong pricing with sales of singlets and capsules doing well. While lower volumes offset the positive trend, the full year outlook on the business appeared to be upbeat.

"Looking ahead to the full year, we are beginning to see commodity costs decline in the coffee and tea business and stabilize in our meat business. This should have some beneficial impact on our fourth quarter results, particularly for coffee and tea, and gives us confidence that we will end up within our existing guidance ranges," CFO Mark Garvey said on the call on May 3.

Sara Lee said the distribution of the CoffeeCo is slated for June 28 after market close. CoffeeCo will also pay a $3.00 per share special dividend. It is set to merge with a subsidiary of D.E Master Blenders 1753.

Could the reason for the separation be the constant success of beaneries such as Starbucks (SBUX) and Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (GMCR) are experiencing? With Keurig-cup sales continuing to ramp higher over recent months, the competition may have been too much for SLE to take.

With one more unit sold off, the question is whether SLE is done parting with portions of its business.

SLE closed Thursday at $20.90, up 7.51% year-over-year. In early Friday trading, the stock was down 1.2% to $20.65.

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