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03/23/2021

George Weston Ltd. puts Weston Foods bakery up for sale

Company says it wants to focus on its retail and real estate operations

George Weston Ltd. is putting its Weston Foods bakery business up for sale and doubling down on its core retail and real estate operations, the company said Tuesday.

The move comes after efforts to scale up the bakery business through acquisitions came up short.

"We spent last year exploring opportunities to create a step change in Weston Food's scale that would allow it to become a truly meaningful part of GWL value," Galen G. Weston, George Weston's chairman and chief executive, said during a conference call with analysts.

"But in the end, we did not find the right opportunity. Instead, it's now clear that pursuing a sale represents the best way to unlock Weston Foods potential."

The sale of the bakery business will leave George Weston with its majority stake in grocery giant Loblaw Companies Ltd. and a large interest in Choice Properties Real Estate Investment Trust.

The bakery business is only a small part of George Weston, representing less than 10% of company's net asset value, said Richard Dufresne, president and chief financial officer of George Weston.

Before deciding to sell, he said the company's efforts to scale up the bakery through acquisitions were "exhaustive."

"The team worked very hard over the last few years looking at many opportunities," Dufresne said. "After reviewing all these opportunities, it became very clear that none of them was creating the right value."

While the company has decided to sell Weston Foods, he said the bakery business is a "very attractive asset to the right purchaser."

"It has scale in the bakery industry as well as a leading market position in a number of categories," Dufresne told analysts. "We are confident this is the right time to launch a sale process."

Weston Foods, founded in 1882, produces bread, rolls and other baked goods in Canada and the U.S. and had $2.1 billion in sales in 2020.

The company makes private label products and brands including Wonder, Ace Bakery and D'Italiano.

In connection with the sale, the company also announced the retirement of Loblaw president Sarah Davis, who has been with Loblaw in multiple roles for 14 years, effective May 6.

Davis will be succeeded by Galen G. Weston, who will return to his role as chairman and president at Loblaw in addition to his current job as chairman and CEO at George Weston.

"The sale of Weston Foods will allow me to dedicate renewed time and energy at Loblaw as we increase our momentum in both our bricks-and-mortar network, and our leadership in digital and data," Galen G. Weston said.

The companies also announced that Robert Sawyer will join Loblaw as chief operating officer and that Richard Dufresne, president and chief financial officer of George Weston, will expand his responsibilities to include chief financial officer of Loblaw on May 6.

The proceeds from the sale of Weston Foods are likely to be returned to shareholders through share repurchases over time, the company said.