CEO: In a last deal, Paulucci OK'd sale of Bellisio Foods

  • Updated: December 7, 2011 - 9:32 PM
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Duluth businessman Jeno Paulucci, an entrepreneur in the frozen food industry, holds up a box of a frozen wild rice entree.

Photo: Joey McLeister, Star Tribune

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DULUTH - Just one day before his Nov. 24 death, Minnesota business icon Jeno Paulucci agreed to sell Bellisio Foods Inc., according to Joel Conner, the company's chairman and CEO.

The transaction has not yet closed and, until it does, Conner said he was not comfortable sharing the buyer's name. However, he did identify the prospective new owner as a New York-based private equity group.

The deal probably will be completed by year's end, barring complications, Conner predicted.

Bellisio Foods, formerly known as Michelina's, is the nation's fourth-largest producer of frozen entrees, churning out about 2 million Michelina's entrees and 100 tons of pizza rolls each day. The only larger producers are Nestle SA, ConAgra Foods and H.J. Heinz Co.

The company's price has not been made public, but Financial Times reported in July that the business was being shopped around by Lazard Middle Market.

It wasn't the first time Bellisio had gone on the block, with the Paulucci family asking for $500 million to $600 million previously, according to reports. In July, Financial Times said the price probably had fallen because of a weakening dollar.

Bellisio employs about 1,500 people companywide. The bulk of its production is in Jackson, Ohio. The company also has operations in Minnesota, including a smaller production facility in Lakeville and several offices in Duluth.

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