Vie de France Corp., the McLean-based food and restaurant business that made its name baking French croissants and baguettes for Americans, announced plans yesterday to sell its bakery division to a Japanese company for more than $40 million.

Vie de France said it has entered into a preliminary agreement to sell its wholesale bakery division to Yamazaki Baking Company Ltd. of Tokyo, which will continue to produce baked goods under the Vie de France name. The Japanese food company will acquire 12 bakery plants, including two in the Washington area, the trademark for bakery division products and the right to create new product lines.

The sale comes on the heels of last month's announcement that Vie de France -- trying to find the right recipe for financial success with a $3.1 million loss last year -- planned to close or sell a third of its company-owned restaurants to cut losses. The firm made that move to concentrate more on its sous-vide operations, which make and sell gourmet foods in vacuum-packed pouches for hotels and other food-service businesses, and on the franchising of restaurant operations.

The bakery operation, which accounted for slightly more than half of Vie de France's sales of $102 million in the fiscal year ended June 30, is the biggest of the company's three divisions. Vie de France will continue to use its name for its restaurants and other culinary products like sous-vide, which Yamazaki will help distribute.

"It's a a natural synergy," said Vie de France President Richard M. Tolbert. "This will give Vie de France products an excellent growth opportunity ... and will allow us to have a supply of those products."

Yamazaki, a $3.2 billion operation, is one of Japan's top 10 food companies with 21 bakery plants and 14,000 employees in that country. It already owns bakeries in New Jersey and California.

Vie de France stock closed at 56 1/4 cents yesterday, down 3 1/8 cents, on the over-the-counter market.