(Adds comments from Evoca CEO, details)
By Francesca Landini
MILAN, Nov 28 (Reuters) - Private equity fund Lone Star has hired Deutsche Bank to explore a potential sale of its Italian vending and coffee machine maker Evoca, which includes iconic brand Gaggia, Evoca CEO Andrea Zocchi told Reuters on Wednesday.
The move comes at a time when the coffee sector is being reshaped by a raft of M&A deals.
Several parties have already presented unsolicited bids for Evoca, Zocchi added, while a source familiar with the matter said five potential buyers had so far come forward.
Italian daily Il Sole 24 Ore said last month that the group could be valued at around 1.5 billion euros ($1.7 billion).
Evoca, which is the market leader in Italy, has attracted interest from industrial groups and other private equity funds, the source said, adding both Italian and U.S.-based groups had approached Lone Star.
The sale process could last two or three months, the source added, saying that Lone Star could ultimately decide to keep Evoca in its portfolio.
The global coffee sector has recently been the subject of an acquisition spree with Coca-Cola acquiring coffee chain Costa for $5.1 billion in August and Nestle agreeing a $7 billion licensing deal for Starbucks' retail business.
With a growing number of customers around the world ready to pay a premium for quality coffee, the professional coffee machine sector is also being lifted by the swell.
"The coffee machine makers are benefiting from the continuing growth of coffee consumption around the world," Zocchi said on the sidelines of a presentation of new Gaggia machines.
"Next year we are launching five new Gaggia machines as we plan to expand the brand in foreign markets, including the United States."
Gaggia, whose first machine was invented in 1938 to make espresso with the cream on top, now accounts for less than 10 percent of Evoca sales. Evoca posted sales of more than 400 million euros last year, with core earnings of around 95 million euros. (Editing by Kirsten Donovan)