October 1, 2015 / 10:53 PM / in 2 years

Exclusive - Mondelez seeks European cheese and grocery asset sale: sources

The logo of Mondelez International is pictured at the company's building in Zurich November 14, 2012.Michael Buholzer

LONDON/NEW YORK (Reuters) - Mondelez International Inc (MDLZ.O) is exploring a sale of its European cheese and grocery business, which could be valued at around $3 billion, according to people familiar with the matter, as it sharpens its focus on snack foods and refreshments.

Mondelez, the maker of Cadbury chocolate and Oreo cookies, has hired investment banks Goldman Sachs Group Inc (GS.N) and JPMorgan Chase & Co (JPM.N) to seek buyers for the assets, the people said, cautioning that the divestment was not certain.

The assets could appeal to companies such as Kraft Heinz, as well as private equity firms, the people added, asking not to be identified because the deliberations are confidential. Kraft Heinz has right of first refusal for the assets as a result of its spinning off of Mondelez in 2012.

Mondelez, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan and Kraft Heinz declined to comment.

Mondelez has separated its European cheese and grocery business from its coffee business, which was combined last year with that owned by D.E Master Blenders 1753.

The European cheese and grocery operations brought in net revenues of $1.44 billion in 2014, according to Mondelez's latest annual report.

In August, William Ackman revealed his activist hedge fund Pershing Square had built a stake worth about $5.5 billion in Mondelez International, in what is seen as an attempt to push the company to boost earnings or sell itself.

Ackman joined fellow activist Nelson Peltz as an investor in Mondelez, which reported its seventh straight drop in quarterly revenue on July 30.

Largely at Peltz's urging, Mondelez is in the midst of a plan to cut about $3.5 billion in costs by the end of 2018 and has set a target of an adjusted operating margin of 15 percent to 16 percent in 2016.

Mondelez has taken several measures to cut costs, including shutting factories and "zero-based budgeting," which requires managers to justify every expense in each new budgeting period.

Reporting by Martine Geller in London and Lauren Hirsch in New York; Editing by Christian Plumb

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