Diageo, the UK beverage group, has sold 49.9 million shares in General Mills, the US bakery group, raising $2.26 billion in the process. Diageo acquired the shares in 2001 as part of the deal which saw General Mills take over the Pillsbury packaged food business. The alcoholic drinks group still holds 25 million shares in General Mills, which it expects to sell in 2005 to help further reduce its debt.
Sara Lee, the diversified US corporation, is to shed 60 of its smallest businesses as it looks to invest in its leading brands. The company, whose bakery brands include Sara Lee, Earthgrains and Bimbo, did not say whether any of its smaller baked goods brands would be put up for sale, but with so many units slated for sale, a shake-out of the bakery business is highly likely.
Spain's Ministry of Agriculture has amended the regulations concerning speciality breads after it emerged that the name of one category - grisines or Italian-style bread sticks - was used as a brand name by a company operating in Spain. The category has now been removed from the list, which sets out the production standards for a wide range of products such as fruit bread, unleavened bread and breadsticks.
Also in Spain, and still in the arena of speciality bread, the regional government of Valencia has joined forces with the local baked goods producers association to create a new quality mark for bread and other baked goods with a traditional Valencian flavour and which "deserve to be distinguished from other baked goods" because of the ingredients with which they are made or the method by which they are baked. The authorities have set aside €83,500 to help promote the quality mark, including advice to bakers as to how to meet the high standards required.
Elsewhere, Patrick Ridgwell, chairman of sugar trader and ingredients group Napier Brown Foods, told shareholders at the company's AGM this week that the company was performing in line with expectations so far this year, helped in no small part by the £18.5 million acquisition of the Renshaw Scott baking ingredients business. Ridgwell added that the continued to strive towards its goal of being a one-stop-shop for ingredients, and that other acquisitions were likely to be necessary to achieve this end.