Investment banks are approaching rivals of Sara Lee, including Smithfield Foods, to see what interest there is in its US meats business, which is set to be spun off from the main group later this year.

Speaking on the company's third-quarter results call this week, Smithfield CFO Bo Manly told analysts he "can't go more than three days at a time" without being approached by a major New York bank or investment bank wanting to represent the company in a Sara Lee acquisition.

"I don't think necessarily we'll have to go to the table. I think the table will come to us," he said.

Sara Lee expects to spin off its international coffee and tea business this year and relocate it to the Netherlands. The headquarters of its new North American meat company will be based in Chicago.

Manly said Smithfield would be interested in the business, which owns brands such as Jimmy Dean breakfast sausages and Ball Park hot dogs, adding: "Everybody will look at it. We will too".

He said the acquisition would bolster Smithfield's weak position in the breakfast sausage market, but admitted there would be strong competition, noting: "There are many people out there that might have a greater interest in it than we do."

However, Manly said the business would be "compatible" and does "fit in the brand portfolio" of Smithfield.