ConAgra Foods has decided to sell its commodity trading operations in a deal worth US$2.1bn.

The US food group said today (27 March) that commodity fund Ospraie Special Opportunities would buy the business, which has proved lucrative in recent months.

During the last three months, sales from ConAgra's trading and merchandising unit almost doubled while profits more than tripled.

Over the same period, revenue from ConAgra's consumer business climbed 8% but rising input costs hit profits, which fell 8%.

Nevertheless, ConAgra CEO Gary Rodkin claimed the sale was "the right strategic step" for the company and signalled confidence in its consumer food brands.

"While profits from the trading and merchandising operations have been extremely high over the past four quarters due to unprecedented volatility in commodities markets, our sole focus is on more repeatable earnings and cash flow growth from our core food operations," Rodkin said.

Greg Heckman, president of ConAgra's commercial businesses will head the trading and merchandising unit, which will be renamed Gavilon, under its new owners.

Rodkin added: "Given the strength of the commodities cycle, we believe this is an excellent time to exit this business. The sale gives us a unique opportunity to redeploy capital, largely toward share repurchases."