Brand-name merchandise manufacturer and marketer Sara Lee Corp has whittled the number of potential buyers for its European apparel division down to two, according to sources familiar with the situation.

The two remaining bidders for the unit, which includes brands such as Dim and Nur Die, are said to be equity companies French PAI Partners and English CVC Capital Partners Ltd.

Other private-equity businesses previously said to be in the running were Bain Capital Inc and Vestar Capital Partners LLP.

Sara Lee's European apparel unit has been struggling to push up profits recently, due to mounting competition from lower-priced competitors and decreasing demand for goods such as stockings.

The division contributes toward approximately ten per cent of the company's total sales.

Sara Lee unveiled plans in February to reorganise into a tightly focused food, beverage and household products company and said that it was considering a spin-off of its $4.6 billion Americas/Asia apparel business on top of the sale of its European apparel unit.