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Dairy giant hires adviser to find a buyer for Archway Cookies

CLEVELAND -- Troubled dairy conglomerate Parmalat has hired a consultant to find a buyer for its Archway Cookies business in North America, the company said yesterday.

"Parmalat Bakery Group, North America, confirms that a consultant has been retained for the purposes of reviewing the prospects of a potential sale of the Bakery Group," the company said in an e-mail reply to a query from the Associated Press.

The disclosure follows the recent arrests of the founder and several top executives of its parent company, Italian dairy giant Parmalat Finanziaria S.p.A., in what Italian authorities are calling a multibillion-dollar fraud.

It wasn't immediately clear, however, whether the consultant hired by Parmalat was because of the company's financial problems or part of an earlier effort to unload the division. The sale of Archway could attract about $400 million, about the same as the company's estimated annual sales, The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday. Archway is the third-largest cookie maker in the country, behind Nabisco, part of Kraft Foods Inc., and Keebler, part of Kellogg Co. Archway makes Archway cookies, the Mother's label Original Circus Animal Cookies, and private-label cookies.

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