Sara Lee Sheds Underwear Unit

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Sara Lee Corp. (SLE) on Monday said it agreed to sell its European bra and hosiery division to an affiliate of private investment firm Sun Capital Partners Inc. as it aims to focus on its food, beverage, household and body care businesses.

The unit, which markets Playtex, Wonderbra, Dim and other apparel brands, recorded almost $1.2 billion in sales in the fiscal year ended July 2 and operates in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom and Eastern Europe.

The Sun Capital affiliate will pay 100 million euros in cash for the business, plus possible extra amounts based on its future performance, Sara Lee said. Sara Lee will also receive some of the cash the business distributes after the deal is completed.

Sara Lee announced early this year that it would sell or spin off several units, but those plans met with less buyer enthusiasm than the company had hoped. Late last month it said it would sell its U.S. retail coffee business to Italy's Segafredo Zanetti Group for $82.5 million in cash and take a charge against earnings to account for the low sale value of the unit.

Chicago-based Sara Lee and Sun Capital have been in exclusive talks for months over the European "branded apparel" business, but the company said in September that the price also would probably come in lower than expected.

As part of the deal, the affiliate of Boca Raton, Fla.-based Sun Capital would assume about 70 million euros of pension liabilities and other costs outside of the UK. Sara Lee said it would probably have to pay 62 million euros once the deal closes to fund certain pension needs within the UK. It expected to recognize an unspecified but "material settlement loss" as part of that pension funding.

Sara Lee expects the deal, which is subject to regulatory authority approvals and other customary conditions, to close by the end of January.

Shares of Sara Lee were down 5 cents at $18.09 in New York Stock Exchange trade.