July 30 (Reuters) - Bellisio Foods Inc, a U.S. maker and distributor of frozen meals sold under the Boston Market and Chili's brands, is exploring a sale it hopes could value it as much as $800 million, including debt, according to people familiar with the matter.
Bellisio's private equity owner, Centre Partners Management LLC, has held talks with investment banks in recent weeks to appoint a financial adviser that will run an auction for the company, the people said this week.
Bellisio may attract suitors that include Nomad Foods Ltd , a special purpose acquisition vehicle that counts billionaire investor William Ackman's hedge fund as an investor, some of the people said. Nomad recently purchased Britain's Iglo Foods Holdings Ltd, whose brands include Birds Eye, for 2.6 billion euros ($2.83 billion).
The sources asked not to be identified because the sale process is confidential. Bellisio, Centre and Nomad did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Bellisio's frozen meals are found in supermarkets and retail grocers under the Michelina's, Boston Market and Chili's at Home brand names. The company also serves customers in the branded retail, private label and food service sectors. It had $599 million in revenue in the 12 months ending Dec. 28, according to Moody's Investors Service Inc.
Bellisio was acquired by New York-based Centre Partners in 2011 for an undisclosed amount from its founder Jeno Paulucci, a serial food industry entrepreneur who passed away soon after he agreed to sell the company.
An auction for Bellisio would follow General Mills Inc's sale process for its frozen vegetable brand Green Giant, amid tough market conditions favoring fresher food products.
Despite the frozen food industry's struggles, Bellisio may be better positioned than some of its peers, due to its fortified relationships with popular franchises and cost-conscious shoppers who stay loyal to the freezer aisle, according to an industry source. (Reporting by Lauren Hirsch in New York; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)