DOWNERS GROVE, ILL. — The board of directors of Sara Lee Corp. has agreed to divide the company into two separate, publicly traded companies.

“Today’s announcement is a logical step following the divestment of our international household and body care business and the announced sale of our North American fresh bakery business,” said James Crown, chairman of the board. “We have carefully considered various strategic alternatives, including unsolicited indications of interest in the company. We believe that the spin-off, plus the one-time special dividend, offers the greatest potential for delivering long-term shareholder value. These two pure-play companies will have their own distinct growth strategies within their respective core markets that will attract a more focused shareholder base.”

Under the plan, Sara Lee’s North American retail and North American food service businesses will be spun off, tax-free into a new public company that will continue to use the Sara Lee name. The company’s brands will include Sara Lee, Jimmy Dean, Ball Park, Hillshire Farm, Chef Pierre and State Fair, and will have revenue of about $4.1 billion in fiscal 2010.

The other company is yet to be named but will include Sara Lee’s current international beverage and bakery business as well as the North American beverage business. The company will include brands such as Douwe Egberts, Senseo, Pickwick, Maison du Café, L’OR, Café Pilão, Marcilla and Bimbo, and will have revenue of about $4.6 billion in fiscal 2010.

The separation is expected to be completed in early 2012. Additionally, the board of directors will declare a $3 per share special divided on company stock in fiscal 2012 before the completion of the spin-off.

In addition to the spin off, Marcel Smits has been named chief executive officer. Smits had been interim CEO since Brenda C. Barnes resigned for health reasons in August 2010. The company also announced it has named Jan Bennink as director and executive chairman, Mark Garvey as chief financial officer, and CJ Fraleigh will be chief executive officer of the new North American retail and food service business after the spin-off.