Centre Partners sells Bumble Bee for $980m

Centre Partners this week exited its ownership stake in Bumble Bee Foods with a $980m sale to Lion Capital.

In one of December’s more notable big-brand exits, Centre Partners Thursday completed the sale of Bumble Bee Foods for $980 million to consumer-sector specialist Lion Capital.

A household name, tuna fish seller Bumble Bee is North America’s largest seafood company. New York-based Centre Partners acquired its majority stake in Bumble Bee in 2008 through its Centre Partners V fund.

Over the last two years, the Centre Partners team helped the company streamline operations and lower fixed costs.

As part of that restructuring, Bumble Bee terminated several freight and shipping contracts in 2010. The San Diego-based company also sold an East Coast cannery this year, following a cost-cutting regimen that began in 2008, when Bumble Bee shuttered its Augusta, Georgia meat-and-poultry plant.

Those initiatives seemed to have succeeded. Operational cash flow rose at Bumble Bee to $59.4 million in the first half of 2010, up from $26.6 million for the same period last year.

Bumble Bee also sought to restructure its debt load. Some $220 million in senior secured notes were issued last year. The notes mature in 2015 and have an annual -interest rate of 7.5 percent.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed. However, the $980 million sale may fall short of a blockbuster for Centre Partners, given that Bumble Bee Foods managed to generate $940 million in net income last year.

The deal closed just a week after a nationwide recall of Bumble Bee-branded chicken salads from store shelves.

Interestingly, Centre Partners had previously owned Bumble Bee, acquiring it from ConAgra Foods in 2003 and later exiting its stake in 2005.