Sara Lee Corp., Downers Grove, Ill., said it agreed to sell its North American Fresh Bakery business to Mexico's Grupo Bimbo for $959 million. Officials said they expect to complete the deal -- subject to regulatory approvals -- by during the first half of calendar 2011. Included are 41 bakeries, 4,800 bakery routes and 13,000 employees.

"This strategic move will further enable Sara Lee to aggressively drive growth in our core coffee and protein categories, organically and through acquisitions," said Marcel Smits, Sara Lee's interim chief executive officer. "In addition to out $2.5 to $3.0 billion share repurchase program, last week's dividend increase and our strong stock price performance over the past year, this is another example of Sara Lee pursuing shareholder value."

Officials noted that Sara Lee retains the right to sell Sara Lee branded frozen desserts and protein products, such as Sara Lee deli meats. Sara Lee, meanwhile, will keep its retail refrigerated dough business previously known as Merico.

Sara Lee processes and markets refrigerated and frozen meat, snack and entree products under numerous brands including Sara Lee, Hillshire Farm, Bryan, Ball Park, State Fair, Kahn's, Gallo and Mr. Turkey. Meanwhile, the company also processes and markets frozen bakery foods under the Sara Lee and Chef Pierre names.

Noted CJ Fraleigh, CEO for Sara Lee North America, "... With the majority of our associates dedicated solely to our coffee and protein businesses, we are focused on driving growth in these core categories, while continuing to strengthen our heritage frozen dessert business."