ARYZTA is lined up to sell its remaining minority stake in French frozen-food retailer Picard as part of a plan to restructure the European bakery business.

The company said it has reached an agreement to offload the 4.64% holding to Tunisia-based Invest Group Zouari and private-equity firm Lion Capital in London for EUR24m (US$29.4m), with the transaction expected to close “early” in the current quarter. Aryzta sold a 43% stake in Picard in 2019 to Invest Group Zouari for EUR156m and has now completed its exit from that business.

Lion Capital is the majority shareholder in Picard but, a spokesperson for Aryzta declined to offer details to just-food on the split of the 4.64% holding or any connection between the private-equity investor and Invest Group Zouari.

Under a new board, Aryzta is aiming to simplify its business model to breath new life into sales and profits, and as part of that endeavour, the company announced in December it plans to quit North and Latin America to focus resources on the European and Asia-Pacific markets. It is already engaged in talks with potential buyers.

Earlier in December, the Zurich-based firm announced the disposal of its take-and-bake pizza business in North America to US-based private-equity firm Brynwood Partners. 

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By GlobalData

The asset disposals should enable Aryzta to reduce its debt pile. The company's 2020 annual report indicates debt levels stood at EUR1.01bn at the end of the last fiscal year. Aryzta said last month it expects to "secure sufficient proceeds to significantly reduce debt levels over the next six to nine months" as the board implements a "new strategic plan".  

Urs Jordi, the Aryzta board chairman and interim CEO since the departure of Kevin Toland last year, said in a statement to announce the Picard exit: "The board and management of Aryzta is now fully focused on delivering its two-part plan to improve the business performance, reduce costs by 25% and significantly strengthen its balance sheet with the planned disposal of its Americas businesses." 

Meanwhile, Veraison Capital said it has reduced its stake in Aryzta to "significantly less than" 3% after conducting two trades in the last days of December to sell around 4% of its holding to "Swiss family offices". The Swiss investor joined with Cobas Asset Management in Spain last year to pool their shares in Aryzta to become a major shareholder group with a key objective of pressing for a more simplified business model, much of which will now be achieved once the recently announced disposals are completed.