Rjr Nabisco Will Sell Del Monte Fruit Unit

Posted: September 08, 1989

NEW YORK — RJR Nabisco Inc. said yesterday that it would sell the fresh-fruit operations of Del Monte to the British conglomerate Polly Peck International for $875 million.

The sale of the unit by RJR Nabisco is part of a planned divestiture of about $5.5 billion in assets to reduce debt accumulated in the $25 billion

leveraged buyout headed by Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. earlier this year.

Del Monte is the world's largest supplier of fresh pineapples and is the third-largest supplier of bananas. Its acquisition would make Polly Peck a major player in the fresh-fruit industry by allowing it to use the well-known Del Monte brand name on its entire range of produce. RJR Nabisco will retain the trademarks for use on processed foods and in other businesses.

RJR's plan to divest assets, particularly among its food holdings, began in June, when it sold five European food businesses for $2.5 billion to BSN SA of France, and its Chun King unit for $52 million to a Singapore syndicate.

The following month it sold its biscuit and food businesses in India and Pakistan for $44 million.

"We are significantly ahead of schedule in completing that plan," said RJR chairman Louis V. Gerstner.

RJR said the amount received for the fresh-fruit business was about 13 times the unit's projected 1989 operating income, a price tag generally in line with analysts' expectations.

"I'd say it's a good price. Of course, it's not as good as what they extracted from the (European) snack-food operations," said Marc I. Cohen of the New York securities firm Sanford C. Bernstein.

John Maxwell, an analyst with Wheat First Securities in Richmond, Va., said he expected RJR to proceed with plans to sell the rest of Del Monte. He predicted that the remainder of the division would fetch $1.5 billion to $2 billion.

Del Monte Tropical Fruit, with $600 million in sales of pineapples, bananas, papayas, mangos and other fresh fruits last year, accounted for about a quarter of Del Monte's total sales.

Its $79 million in 1988 operating profits are weighted toward the first half of the year, when there is a shortage of competitive, non-tropical fruits. In contrast, Polly Peck's profits are weighted toward the second half of the year.

Polly Peck said the Del Monte acquisition was expected to boost its sales by 50 percent.

"The acquisition of Del Monte represents a remarkable opportunity for (Polly Peck) to establish itself as one of the world's largest suppliers of fresh fruit and vegetables," said Polly Peck chairman Asil Nadir.

Polly Peck said it planned to finance the acquisition through a rights issue and from bank loans. It said it hoped to complete the deal by Oct. 26.

The rights issue would allow existing shareholders to buy new Polly Peck shares at $3.77 each, about 20 percent below their recent trading range.

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