Kohlberg Kravis Roberts is potentially interested in Sara Lee and could possibly partner with an interested party as bidders emerge for the food group, two sources familiar with the situation said.
Sara Lee recently has attracted interest from Brazilian meat processor JBS SA and from a group of private equity firms including Apollo Global Management, sources previously told Reuters.
That consortium also includes Bain Capital and TPG Capital a separate source said.
It was unclear what KKR do, for example, whether it might seek to join with interested parties such as JBS or possibly with a private equity consortium led by Apollo.
Sara Lee, with a market value of about $11.5 billion, has been examining various options such as selling itself or splitting itself up into meat and beverage units.
The board is expected to approve a plan to split the company at a meeting later this month unless a compelling takeover bid emerges, a separate source familiar with the situation said.
KKR had been interested in Sara Lee last year, The New York Post reported at the time, saying that the foodmaker received an unsolicited offer that could have been worth $12 billion from KKR, and Sara Lee's board rebuffed the offer.
Sara Lee could not be immediately reached for comment. All the private equity firms declined comment.
The future of Sara Lee, whose brands include Jimmy Dean sausages and Senseo coffee, has been in question for some months.
It has been functioning with an interim chief executive since August when Brenda Barnes left after suffering a stroke. Barnes became CEO in 2005 and led a major restructuring at Sara Lee, spinning off its Hanes underwear business and selling other non-food businesses.
A sale or break-up could be the final play in a decade-long shrinking of the company, which spun off Coach Incin 2001.
Analysts have said Sara Lee could fetch as much as $23 a share, or $14.7 billion, in a takeover.
It remains unclear how many parties would have the financial heft to buy the collection of assets that includes lunch meat, coffee and pies and operates in countries from Brazil to the Netherlands.
Sara Lee stock closed at $18.18, up 17 cents, Wednesday.
JBS is now considering teaming up with a group of private equity firms to pursue a joint bid for Sara Lee, a source said Tuesday.
Such consideration follows an earlier bid from the world's largest beef processor of $17.50 per share, which Sara Lee rejected as too low, according to Bloomberg.
Sara Lee has not given JBS a purchase price, although it wants about $20 a share, or almost $13 billion, Bloomberg reported. Sara Lee is roughly the same size as JBS.
In November, Sara Lee sold its North American bakery business to Mexico's Grupo Bimbo for $925 million and analysts pointed out that the company's new focus, North American meats and European coffee, have little overlap.
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