US food group Sara Lee has agreed to sell its North American fresh bakery operations to Mexico’s Grupo Bimbo in a deal worth US$959m.

The agreement follows months of speculation over Sara Lee’s domestic bread arm and the company said the sale meant it could focus on its protein and coffee operations.

Sara Lee interim CEO Marcel Smits said the company would “aggressively invest” in both businesses.

“In both categories, we are a leading player, with healthy margins and a strong track record of innovation. We are actively pursuing growth here, organically and through acquisitions,” Smits said.

Sara Lee said the combination of its North American bakery business with Bimbo’s US division would create “a leading fresh bakery company” in the US. The deal is expected to close in the first half of next year.

Alongside the results, Sara Lee booked a 32% fall in first-quarter profits. Adjusted earnings per share from continuing operations reached $0.13 versus $0.17 a year ago due to higher marketing and commodity costs. Net sales dipped 0.5%.

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However, Sara Lee lifted its full-year adjusted EPS target by $0.04 to $0.92-0.99 due to a stronger euro and lower interest costs.

Click here for the full statement from Sara Lee.