Minneapolis-based Bellisio Foods, which makes frozen entrees under the Michelina’s, Boston Market and Chili’s brands, is being sold to Thailand food conglomerate Charoen Pokphand Foods (CPF) for $1.08 billion.
The price tops Wall Street speculation for what the privately held frozen-food producer might get in a hot mergers-and-acquisitions market.
It’s the second time in five years that Bellisio has changed hands. The New York private equity firm Centre Partners bought it in 2011 just before the death of founder Jeno Paulucci.
Bellisio said it is the nation’s third largest manufacturer and distributor of single-serve frozen entrees and will become “an integral part” and the U.S. flagship of CPF’s vision to be the “Kitchen of the World.”
CPF said it serves more than 3 billion customers in 18 countries throughout Asia and Europe. It is controlled by Thailand’s richest man, Dhanin Chearavanont. Reuters reported CPF shares plunged on news of the deal on concern that it may have paid too much.
CPF, a big meat-and-feed producer in 14 countries, has said it planned to expand its offerings with more value-added products in new markets.
“We are excited to be part of CPF and look forward to driving the North American strategy for one of the world’s leading food companies,” said Bellisio CEO Joel Conner in a statement. “With Bellisio’s expertise, food quality and commitment to bring new, delicious and exciting brands to market, our management and employees are expected to play key roles within CPF.”
Conner was said to be returning from Asia Thursday. The company provided no further comment.
The sale of Bellisio has been anticipated for more than a year. It’s unclear whether Conner and about a dozen management members who had rolled some of their equity into the 2011 Centre Partners transaction, will maintain an ownership stake going forward.
The company attracted multiple suitors, including Nomad Foods, maker of Birds Eye brands in Europe, and other concerns, according to earlier reports.
Bellisio had sales of $668 million over the past 12 months, CPF said. Bellisio employs an estimated 2,100 workers and manufactures more than 2 million frozen meals a day at plants in Jackson, Ohio; Vernon, Calif.; and Austin, Minn.
Jeno Paulucci, a Hibbing native who spent his later years in Florida, started the company that would eventually be called Bellisio in 1990, just a few years after he sold his frozen pizza company, Jeno’s, to Pillsbury.
Paulucci, who died in 2011, struck it rich with his Chun King line of canned Chinese food products that he started in the 1940s and sold to R.J. Reynolds in 1966.
Started in Duluth, Bellisio had been seen as a potential job generator for the nearby Iron Range, but plans to build a Hibbing plant broke down over incentives and the company eventually opted to expand its Ohio facility.
Conner, a former son-in-law of Paulucci, and Centre Partners had been busy building a bigger Bellisio in recent years.
In 2013, Bellisio bought then-bankrupt Austin Packaging, a southern Minnesota producer of sauces and frozen entrees, for more than $6 million.
That same year, Bellisio bought Southern California-based Overhill Farms for $81 million. That transaction gave Bellisio production and marketing of frozen foods under the Boston Market brand.
The company has its headquarters in downtown Minneapolis, but did not respond to requests for an employment breakdown by state.
Staff writer Patrick Kennedy contributed to this story.