Heinz To Sell Weight Watchers Operations For $735 Million

PITTSBURGH: H.J. Heinz Co., one of the world's biggest food producers, said July 22 it has agreed to sell most of its Weight Watchers diet products business to Artal Luxembourg SA, a European group of private investors, for $735 million. Under the agreement, Heinz, whose products include Heinz ketchup, Ore-Ida frozen potatoes and Star-Kist tuna, will retain control of certain Weight Watchers brands, including frozen meals, desserts and breakfast items, and the UK-based Weight Watchers operation. Heinz CEO William R. Johnson said the services orientation of the weight-control business does not fit with the company's long-term growth strategy, and that the disposal enables Heinz to focus on Weight Watchers foods and other global food businesses. However, the Pittsburgh-based Heinz said it will use $14 million of proceeds from the sale -- in which the division's management has been invited to take part -- to retain a 6% stake in the operation. Heinz announced in February plans to sell the diet business as part of a company-wide restructuring that will see it focus on six core brand areas and six countries and cut up to 4,000 jobs.

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