Ball Corp. ( BLL), which supplies metal and plastic packaging for food and beverage companies, agreed to buy German canmaker Schmalbach-Lubeca for roughly $885 million in cash, expanding its reach in Europe.

"The addition of Schmalbach-Lubeca will provide Ball a solid number two position in Europe to go with our number one position in the larger North American market," Ball said in a press release.

Schmalbach-Lubeca produces more than 12 billion aluminum and steel beverage cans and easy-opening can ends, employs about 2,500 people and has projected sales in 2002 in excess of $1 billion. Ball had 2001 sales of around $3.7 billion. Together, the two companies produce more than 45 billion beverage cans annually in North America and Europe.

"Schmalbach's strong performance and cash flow will make it immediately accretive," Ball said in a press release. Schmalbach-Lubeca will operate as a wholly-owned European subsidiary of Ball.

Pending regulatory approval, Ball expects to close the transaction in late 2002 or early 2003.