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Jul 30, 2020

George Weston said to pursue ailing Swiss baking firm Aryzta

Galen Weston, chief executive officer of Loblaw Cos., speaks during the company's annual general meeting in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, on Thursday, May 2, 2019.

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George Weston Ltd., the Canadian grocery and baking giant, is exploring an acquisition of ailing Swiss baking company Aryzta AG, people familiar with the matter said.

The Toronto-based company is working with an adviser as it pursues a deal for Aryzta, the people said, asking not to be identified because the information is private. The Swiss baking firm is also attracting interest from potential private equity bidders including Apollo Global Management Inc. and Cerberus Capital Management, the people said.

The suitors could still decide against making formal offers, and the deliberations may not lead to a transaction, the people said. Representatives for Apollo, Aryzta and Cerberus declined to comment. Several calls to George Weston’s office in Toronto weren’t answered, and an investor relations official didn’t return a voice mail seeking comment.

Aryzta, best known for supplying McDonald’s buns and making Otis Spunkmeyer cookies, has a market value of about 560 million Swiss francs (US$613 million). A group of disgruntled shareholders, led by Swiss activist investor Veraison Capital and Cobas Asset Management, own more than 20 per cent in the company.

The investors have been pushing for management and strategy changes after years of what they called “significant and consistent value destruction.” Aryzta shares have slumped by nearly 50% this year and are trading near a record low.

Aryzta Chief Executive Officer Kevin Toland, who took over in 2017, has been trying to turn around the Swiss baker after a string of acquisitions under his predecessor left the company saddled with about 1.3 billion francs of total debt. The company announced in May it hired Rothschild & Co. to conduct a review of its strategic and financial options.

The company said this month that several parties expressed unsolicited interest in acquiring the company, without identifying the bidders. As a result, it pushed back a shareholder meeting to mid-September, drawing a rebuke from the activist investors.

George Weston is named after the one-time baker’s apprentice who founded the company in 1882. The company runs Loblaw Cos., Canada’s biggest food and drug retailer, and owns baked goods maker Weston Foods as well as real estate. The company, which has a market value of $15.6 billion, supplies Wonder bread in Canada and produces Girl Scout cookies.