Sara Lee Corporation

The Sara Lee Corporation was an American consumer-goods company based in Downers Grove, Illinois.[1][2] It had operations in more than 40 countries and sold its products in over 180 countries. Its international operations were headquartered in Utrecht, The Netherlands. While no longer operated independently, as of 2020, Sara Lee still exists as a current brand name under the auspices of holding company Kohlberg & Company, making frozen cakes, etc. at its present facility in Illinois, United States.

Sara Lee Corporation
IndustryConsumer goods
HeadquartersDowners Grove, Illinois, U.S.
Key people
Jan Bennink (chairman)
Marcel Smits (CEO)
ProductsFood, beverage, and household and body care products

Sara Lee is also the brand name of a number of frozen and packaged foods, often known for the long-running slogan "Everybody doesn't like something, but nobody doesn't like Sara Lee," often incorrectly reported as "Nobody does it like Sara Lee".

As of 2005, Sara Lee Corporation had operations in more than 40 countries; sold food, beverage, and household products in over 180 countries; and had some 137,000 employees worldwide.[3]

On July 4, 2012, Sara Lee Corporation was split into two companies: one for North American operations which would be renamed Hillshire Brands (the Sara Lee name would continue to be used on bakery and certain deli products distributed by Hillshire Brands), the other for international beverage and bakery businesses named D.E Master Blenders 1753.[4]


In 1935, Charles Lubin and his brother-in-law, Arthur Gordon, bought a small chain of Chicago neighborhood bakeries called Community Bake Shops. Working together, the businessmen expanded their original three stores into a chain of seven bakeries.[5] Lubin wanted to expand the business. He named a cream cheesecake after his eight-year-old daughter, Sara Lee Lubin, and changed the name of the business to Kitchens of Sara Lee.[5] In 1956, the Consolidated Foods Corporation bought Kitchens of Sara Lee, and it became one of the company's best-known brand names. In 1985, the name Sara Lee Corporation was adopted for the corporation as a whole.

While the company traced its lineage to 1939, when Nathan Cummings acquired C. D. Kenny Company, a wholesale distributor of sugar, coffee, and tea in Baltimore, Consolidated Foods Corporation was actually the descendant of a Chicago grocery store called Sprague, Warner & Company. This enterprise, which started on State Street in Chicago, was founded during the Civil War by Albert A. Sprague and Ezra J. Warner. By 1909, Sprague, Warner & Company was one of the leading wholesale grocery companies in the United States, famous for house brands such as Richelieu, Ferndell, and Batavia. In 1942, this company was acquired by the Canadian-born Cummings. The new Chicago-based company, at first called Sprague Warner–Kenny Corp., ranked as the largest grocery wholesaler in the United States. Annual sales grew from about $20 million in 1942 to $120 million by 1946. After changing its name in 1945 to Consolidated Grocers, Cummings's company became the Consolidated Foods Corporation in 1953.[6]

In 1986, Sara Lee bought the manufacturing and mail order operations of Wolferman's, a maker of English muffins, that dated back to 1888.[7]

In February 1988, Sara Lee agreed to the purchase of the 84-year-old Adams-Millis Corporation of High Point, North Carolina, the largest private label sock and stocking manufacturer in the United States, with 3000 employees and 1987 sales of nearly $200 million.[8]

On June 25, 2001, Sara Lee Corp pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and agreed to pay $4.4 million for selling tainted meat that was blamed for at least 15 deaths and six miscarriages in 1998; the agreement stressed that Sara Lee's Bil Mar Foods division did not knowingly distribute the tainted meat.[9] On August 7, 2001, Sara Lee Corp cleared the last remaining regulatory hurdle in its purchase of Earthgrains Co, receiving approval from the European Commission (S).[10]

Brenda C. Barnes joined Sara Lee Corporation in July 2004 as the president and chief operating officer. Then in February 2005, Barnes was named president and chief executive officer, and the corporation announced it would move its headquarters from Cincinnati, Ohio, to Downers Grove, Illinois, which housed the company's North American operating businesses and the majority of Sara Lee's corporate staff.

Also in February 2005, the company began executing a multi-year plan to transform Sara Lee into a company focused on its food, beverage, and household and body care businesses around the world. To support that focus, Sara Lee announced plans to dispose of approximately 40 percent of the company's revenues, including its apparel, European packaged meats, US retail coffee and direct selling businesses. On December 22, 2005, Sara Lee Corporation was to delist from Euronext Amsterdam and Euronext Paris stock exchanges, as well as the Swiss Exchange. The company said it was taking the voluntary step due to low trading volumes on those exchanges.[11]

2005 also saw the debut of Sara Lee Soft & Smooth made with whole grain white bread. In October, Barnes succeeded C. Steven McMillan as chairman. The year ended with the sale of the direct selling business to Tupperware.

In 2006, Sara Lee announced a new company wide campaign: "the joy of eating". The campaign was part of a restructuring at Sara Lee.

2006 featured the divestiture of Sara Lee's European meats and European branded apparel businesses. In addition, the corporation spun off to its shareholders the branded apparel, Americas/Asia, business, into a separate, publicly traded company called Hanesbrands Inc.

Including the spin-off, Sara Lee raised more than $3.7 billion in proceeds as part of the company's transformation plan. In addition to the monetary benefits, the company became tightly focused on its core businesses: food, beverage, and household and body care. In 2008, Sara Lee sold off its Direct Store Delivery foodservice coffee business to Farmer Brothers for a reported $45 million.[12]

By 2009, Sara Lee was pursuing the sale of its household and body care business in their continuing effort to focus on core business.[13] In April, Sara Lee launched a state-of-the-art research and development center named The Kitchens of Sara Lee, a 120,000-square-foot (11,000 m2) campus at the company's headquarters in Downers Grove.[14]

On September 25, 2009, Sara Lee announced it accepted a binding offer by Unilever for €1.275 billion to sell its global body care and European detergents business.[15] The transaction was approved by EU regulators in November of the following year.[16]

On November 9, 2010, Sara Lee said that by selling its North American Fresh Bakery unit to Grupo Bimbo, it could grow in other areas. The $959 million deal gave Sara Lee the right to continue using the Sara Lee name on frozen desserts and meat products. Grupo Bimbo was to use the Sara Lee name for fresh-baked products around the world except for Western Europe, Australia and New Zealand. The deal also gave Grupo Bimbo 41 baking plants, and the regional brands Grandma Sycamore's, Heiner's and Rainbo.[17]

On January 28, 2011, Sara Lee announced the company would be split into two units. The company said its North American operations (including Jimmy Dean, Ball Park and Hillshire Farm) would take the Hillshire Brands corporate name, while the international beverage and bakery businesses (including Douwe Egberts, Senseo, Pickwick, Maison du Café, L'OR, Café Pilão, and Marcilla) would constitute a separate unit named D.E Master Blenders 1753. Some analysts claimed splitting the business into two units would make a takeover more likely. Stockholders would have equal shares in both companies. In the same month, Sara Lee received noted media attention regarding their strategy to "refocus on the core" to revamp the company. In a Forbes magazine column, Adam Hartung stated Sara Lee could not "cost-cut, refocus or re-align a business to success with no new products and no growth plan".[18] Also, Marcel Smits, interim CEO since Barnes suffered a stroke, became the new CEO, and Jan Bennink director and chairman.[4] The split was completed on July 4, 2012.

The successor company, Hillshire Brands, re-located its headquarters from Downers Grove to Chicago in 2012.[19] In 2014, Hillshire, along with the Sara Lee operations, was acquired by Tyson Foods.[20]

On June 1, 2018, Tyson announced that it would sell the Sara Lee, Van's, Chef Pierre and Bistro Collection brands to Kohlberg & Company.[21] The sale was completed on August 1, forming Sara Lee Frozen Bakery, which will be based in Oakbrook Terrace, Illinois.[22]


  • Ball Park Franks: hot dogs
  • Bryan: meats
  • Bryan Foods: meats
  • CroustiPâte: bakery, European market
  • Deli d'Italia: meats
  • Deli Perfect: meats
  • Emeril: meats
  • Galileo: salame, meats (east coast)
  • Gallo Salame: meats (San Francisco, west coast)
  • Green Hill: sausage
  • Hillshire Farm: meats
  • Jimmy Dean: pork sausages and meat products
  • Kahn's: meats
  • King Cotton: meats
  • Merrild: Coffee
  • Mr. Turkey
  • Ortiz: bakery
  • R.B. Rice: meats
  • Rainbo: bakery
  • Rudy's Farm: pork sausage and breakfast sandwiches
  • Sara Lee: bakery, condiments, deli cheese, deli meats and frozen sweets
  • State Fair: corn dogs
  • West Virginia Brand: meats
  • Butter-Nut Cappuccino:
  • Bravo:
  • Caboclo:
  • Café Continental:
  • Café Damasco
  • Café do Ponto
  • Café Pilão
  • Cafitesse
  • Chat Noir
  • Cain's Coffee
  • Douwe Egberts: coffee, tea
  • Harris
  • Hornimans
  • Jacqmotte
  • Java Coast
  • Kanis & Gunnink
  • Kayo
  • Laurentis
  • Maison du Café
  • Marcilla
  • Maryland Club
  • Merrild
  • Moccona
  • Natreen
  • Natrena
  • Paradise
  • Piazza d'Oro
  • Pickwick: tea
  • Prima
  • Seleto
  • Senseo: coffee machine and coffee pods
  • Soley
  • Steamers
  • Suntipt
  • Van Nelle


Sara Lee Corporation announced in 2006 that it had completed the sale of its branded apparel business in Europe to an affiliate of Sun Capital Partners, Inc. Such brands included Dim, Playtex, Wonderbra, Lovable, Abanderado, Nur Die, Unno and Bellinda. Sara Lee Corporation announced on Sept 28, 2009, that it had received a binding offer for its Global Body Care and European Detergents to Unilever for €1.275 billion. On June 1, 2010, Sara Lee announced it had completed the sale of its 51 percent stake in its Godrej Sara Lee joint venture to Godrej Consumer Products Ltd. for a total consideration of €185 million ($230 million). On June 15, 2010, the company announced that it had received a binding offer of $153.5 million for its remaining insecticides business.[24] The offer is dependent on European Union antitrust approval; the decision is due May 2, 2011.[24] On July 5, 2010, Sara Lee completed the sale of its Ambi Pur air care business to Procter & Gamble for €320 million. On April 4, 2011, Sara Lee completed the sale of its Kiwi shoe care business to SC Johnson for €245 million.[25] In 2010, Sara Lee completed the sale of White King and Janola brands to Symex for €38 million. In addition, Sara Lee announced the pending sale of its non-Indian insecticides business to SC Johnson for €153.5 million.

In 2010, Sara Lee divested its North American fresh bakery business to Grupo Bimbo.[26]

In 2012, Hillshire Brands sold its Australian bakery operations to McCain Foods.[27]


On November 19, 2008, Sara Lee Corporation, which had acquired "the No. 2 kosher hot dog brand" in 1993,[28] announced that it would close its kosher hot dog and meat processing facility in Chicago, on or before January 30, 2009. Sara Lee decided to exit the kosher meat business and discontinue processing and distributing products made under all of its kosher meat brands, including: Best's Kosher, Sinai Kosher, Shofar and Wilno.[29]

As of early 2019, certain Sara Lee bread and other baked goods products, which had dropped some kosher certifications in 2017,[30] restored them.[31]

Consumer relations

Throughout 2012, Sara Lee contributed $343,600 to a $46 million political campaign known as "The Coalition Against The Costly Food Labeling Proposition, sponsored by Farmers and Food Producers".[32] This organization was set up to oppose a California citizen's initiative, known as Proposition 37, demanding mandatory labeling of foods containing genetically modified ingredients.[33]

The Sara Lee Foundation

The Sara Lee Foundation[34] was founded in 1981 to formalize Sara Lee's dedication to community services.

See also


  1. "Investor Contacts." Sara Lee Corporation. Retrieved on January 31, 2011. "Sara Lee Corporation Investor Relations Department 3500 Lacey Road Downers Grove, Illinois 60515-5424 ."
  2. "About Sara Lee." Sara Lee Corporation. Retrieved on January 31, 2011. "Based in Downers Grove, Ill.,[...]"
  3. "Sara Lee 2005 Annual Report". Sara Lee Corporation. Archived from the original on July 9, 2007.
  4. "Sara Lee to split into two businesses". News & Record. Associated Press. 2011-01-28. Retrieved 2011-01-28.
  5. "Charles W. Lubin, 84, Sara Lee's Founder"], The New York Times, via Associated Press, July 17, 1988
  6. "Consolidated Foods Corp." Electronic Encyclopedia of Chicago. Retrieved on May 1, 2014.
  7. Helene McEntee (17 July 1986). "Muffin-maker Wolferman sells two units to Sara Lee". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2010-12-16.
  8. "This day in history". News and Record. 2016-02-09. Retrieved 2016-11-08.
  9. Barboza, David (2001-06-23). "Sara Lee Corp. Pleads Guilty In Meat Case". The New York Times.
  11. "US: Sara Lee to delist on three stock markets just-food global news December 22, 2005 Thursday 2:07 PM GMT".
  12. "Farmer Bros. to Acquire Sara Lee's Direct-Store Delivery Coffee". Bloomberg. 2008-12-03. Retrieved 2014-09-17.
  13. Dorfman, Brad (17 April 2009). "Sara Lee still evaluating possible unit sale". Reuters. Retrieved 3 May 2009.
  14. "Sara Lee Corporation Opens the Kitchens of Sara Lee" (Press release). Sara Lee Corporation. 17 April 2009. Archived from the original on April 20, 2009. Retrieved 3 May 2009.
  15. "SARA LEE RECEIVES BINDING OFFER OF €1.275 BILLION FROM UNILEVER FOR ITS GLOBAL BODY CARE BUSINESS" (Press release). Sara Lee Corporation. 25 September 2009. Archived from the original on September 28, 2009. Retrieved 25 September 2009.
  16. "EU OKs Unilever's Sara Lee deal". Marketing Week. 17 November 2010. Retrieved 16 September 2019.
  17. "Sara Lee to sell North American bakery unit for $959 million". News & Record. Associated Press. 2010-11-09. Retrieved 2010-11-09.
  18. Hartung, Adam. "Killing Me Softly- Leadership Failure at Sara Lee". Forbes Magazine. Retrieved 28 June 2012.
  19. "Hillshire Brands starting up in new space". Chicago Tribune. December 16, 2012. Retrieved March 25, 2014.
  20. McCarthy, Erin; Prior, Anna (28 August 2014). "Tyson Completes Acquisition of Hillshire". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 6 September 2017.
  21. Editorial, Reuters. "Tyson to sell Sara Lee, three other non-protein brands". U.S. Retrieved June 18, 2018. {{cite news}}: |first1= has generic name (help)
  22. Zarling, Patti (August 1, 2018). "Sara Lee's new owner hopes to thaw sales through R&D". Food Dive. Retrieved September 26, 2018.
  23. Sara Lee Corporation (2011). "All Sara Lee Brands". Retrieved 2011-01-24.
  24. Serdarevic, Masa (January 4, 2011). "Sara Lee offloads Kiwi polish unit for €245m". Financial Times. Retrieved 2011-01-24.
  25. Adidinata (December 7, 2010). "Sara Lee Completes Sale of Global Shoe Care Business to SC Johnson". Sara Lee Corporate. Retrieved 2012-05-11.
  26. "Grupo Bimbo to Buy Sara Lee Unit for $959 Million". Retrieved 2018-08-07.
  27. "McCain to buy Australian frozen bakery business". 2012-12-19. Retrieved 2013-08-21.
  28. David Hochman (April 4, 1993). "You Don't Have to Be Jewish to Love This Business". The New York Times.
  29. "Sara Lee announces closure of kosher hot dog and meat processing facility in Chicago". Sara Lee Corp. 19 November 2008. Retrieved 22 November 2008.
  30. "Report: Arnold's, Thomas's, Sara Lee ..." The Jewish Press. December 7, 2018.
  31. "Back to Basics: Bimbo Bakeries USA Confirms Kosher Recertification". The Jewish Press. January 24, 2019.
  32. "Who's Funding Prop 37, Labeling for Genetically Engineered Foods? | Propositions | Elections 2012". KCET. 9 July 2012. Retrieved 2013-08-21.
  33. "ANH calls for international boycott of Prop 37 NO campaign companies". 2012-11-14. Retrieved 2013-08-21.
  34. Mathew Mirapaul (November 12, 1998). "High-Tech Companies Slow to Support High-Tech Art". The New York Times.
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