By Pamela Barbaglia and Gwénaëlle Barzic

LONDON (Reuters) – Bain Capital is looking to bid for a stake in the benefits and rewards services unit of French food caterer Sodexo as the Paris-listed firm is on the lookout for investors that could help fund the group’s turnaround, sources told Reuters.

Sodexo, which has a market value of 12 billion euros ($13.7 billion), is looking to sell a minority stake of about 30% in the business which has been driving the group’s post-COVID recovery by providing employee benefit programmes as well as meal vouchers and gift cards, one of the sources said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

An auction process is due to start this week, with other private equity firms expected to join the race, the source said.

Sodexo’s benefits unit delivered a 7% jump in organic revenues in its latest quarterly results. Its valuation could exceed 2 billion euros, based on core earnings of about 200 million euros, the source said.

A spokesperson for Sodexo said the company would keep majority control of the benefits and rewards business, adding “in this context we are currently studying various strategic options.”

The spokesman also ruled out plans for an initial public offering (IPO).

Bain was not immediately available to comment.

Sodexo, one of the world’s biggest catering companies alongside Britain’s Compass, has been hit hard by the pandemic and had to cut jobs and halt dividend payments to stay afloat.

Unlike restaurants, caterers like Sodexo – which serves businesses, government agencies, hospitals, schools and event organisers – don’t have a direct relationship with consumers and have been unable to focus on home deliveries during lockdowns.

On Jan. 6 Sodexo, founded in 1966 by French billionaire Pierre Bellon, warned a prolonged return to remote working caused by the Omicron variant would affect its revenue.

The Bellon family, which holds a 42.8% stake in the company, has given the green light to the carve-out of the benefits division, which also provides fuel cards, incentive programmes and sports passes.

($1 = 0.8770 euros)

(Reporting by Pamela Barbaglia in London and Gwenaelle Barzic in Paris; Editing by Mark Potter)