LONDON, April 3 (Reuters) - Kuwait's billionaire al-Kharafi family is looking to sell Americana, one of the Middle East's largest food companies, and has hired bankers to explore a deal, four sources familiar with the matter told Reuters.
There is no formal process underway, the sources said, but the family is working with investment bank Rothschild to approach potential buyers including private equity groups and sovereign wealth funds in the region to explore their interest in the $3.6 billion group.
According to Thomson Reuters data, the Kharafi family holds 66.8 percent of Kuwait Food Company, which sells goods under the brand name Americana, through its private investment company MAK (Mohammed Abdulmohsin al-Kharafi & Sons).
Rothschild declined to comment. Americana and MAK were not immediately available for comment.
Founded in 1964 in Kuwait, Americana is a publicly traded group of companies based in the Middle East and North Africa, with interests in restaurants and packaged food.
It trades on the Kuwait stock exchange and its $3.63 billion market capitalisation makes it the biggest company on the Thomson Reuters MENA Cyclical Consumer Goods and Services Index. The group had sales of $3.1 billion dollars in 2013 and profits of $179 million, according to its website.
The company is a franchise operator of restaurants including KFC and Pizza Hut, owned by Yum Brands, and Red Lobster and Olive Garden, owned by Darden Restaurants. Americana also manufactures California Garden beans and Farm Frites frozen vegetables.
The Middle East is seen as an attractive region for food and drink companies, thanks to a growing and youthful population and a drive to reduce the economic dependence on oil and gas.
In 2009, Americana sold its stake in a joint venture called Cairo Food Industries to its partner, H.J. Heinz, which is now owned by Brazilian private equity firm 3G.
PepsiCo has a joint venture with Saudi Arabian dairy company Almarai, while Coca-Cola bought half of the Saudi Arabian beverage business owned by Aujan Industries in 2012, pledging to invest $5 billion in the region over the next decade.
The sources said it was not clear whether the business might be sold in part or as a whole.
The Kharafi family, one of the most influential in the Gulf Arab region, have holdings across various sectors including construction, financials and telecoms through MAK.
(Additional reporting by Sylvia Westall in Kuwait and Mirna Sleiman in Dubai; Editing by Will Waterman)