ConAgra Foods will transfer its fresh beef and pork processing business to a new venture led by Hicks, Muse, Tate & Furst. Under the arrangement, ConAgra Foods will own a minority stake and substantially reduce its equity interest in the fresh beef and pork business from the currently $1 billion down to $150 million. The HMTF group, in conjunction with Booth Creek Management and George Gillett, will own 54 percent of the venture, leaving ConAgra Foods with 46 percent.

As a result, HMTF and George Gillett will gain control of major U.S. fresh beef and pork production and processing operations. As of ConAgra Foods' fiscal third quarter, the book value of the fresh beef and pork operation exceeded $1.4 billion. Transferred operations will include ConAgra Foods fresh beef, pork and lamb businesses, all based in Greeley, Colo., together with ConAgra Foods Australian beef operations, based in Brisbane, Australia.

"This is an important step in sharpening our strategic focus while ensuring continued access to our principal supplier of top-quality meat and pork products," said Bruce Rohde, chairman and chief executive officer of ConAgra Foods.

The new joint venture will operate under the name Swift & Co. Headquarters will remain in Greeley, Colo. John Simons, current president and chief operating officer of the enterprise, will continue to manage the operations. The HMTF/Gillett group will appoint five directors and ConAgra Foods will appoint two directors.

As a result of the transaction, ConAgra Foods will receive a combination of cash, equity, and debt reflecting the book value of the business, which should approximate $1.4 billion on the closing date-scheduled for August. ConAgra Foods will receive approximately $800 million in cash and an equity interest valued at $150 million at closing. The joint venture will owe ConAgra Foods $150 million of subordinated debt, $30 million of secured debt, and approximately $250 million of line of credit amounts assumed by the venture.

During a 24-month transition period, ConAgra Foods will provide a secured line of credit of up to $350 million to the cattle-feeding subsidiary of the joint venture for cattle feeding operations.

The company has posted question-and-answer information relating to the transaction at http://www.conagrafoods.com/investors.

ConAgra Foods is one of North America's larger packaged food companies, with a strong presence in consumer grocery as well as restaurant and foodservice establishments. ConAgra Foods' consumer brands include: Hunt's tomato products, Healthy Choice, Banquet meals, Armour meats, Bumble Bee tuna, Louis Kemp seafood, La Choy, Chun King, Lunch Makers, Knott's Berry Farm, Wesson, Country Pride, Blue Bonnet, Kid Cuisine, Parkay, Reddi-wip, Marie Callender's, Cook's ham, Butterball, Act II, Slim Jim, Eckrich, Chef Boyardee, Orville Redenbacher's, PAM cooking spray, Snack Pack puddings, Van Camp's, Peter Pan, Hebrew National, Gulden's mustard, Pemmican jerky, Swift Brown 'N Serve Sausages, Swiss Miss, and many others. For more information, visit http://www.conagrafoods.com.

ConAgra news release