Dutch food group Wessanen announced this morning (23 December) that it has reached a deal to sell its US organic unit Tree of Life to Kehe Food for US$190m.

The company, which had been looking to sell Tree of Life for most of 2009, said the proceeds from the sale would be used to pay down debt and strengthen its financial position.

Wessanen CEO Frans Koffrie said that the sale was a “major step” in the company’s transition to a group focused on European organic and speciality food markets.

“Earlier this year we announced reviews to exit our North American branded and distribution businesses. With the earlier divestment of Liberty Richter and now Tree of Life, good progress has been made toward this strategic focus,” he said.

“In combination with a strengthened balance sheet, we are well-positioned to benefit in full from the ample opportunities of the European organic and speciality food markets.”

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Tree of Life distributes lines from Hain Celestial, Kraft Foods and Dean Foods’ Horizon Organic alongside its own namesake products.

The deal is expected to close in the first quarter of 2010 and excludes the Panos Brand. Closing is subject to shareholder and regulatory approval.