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Campbell Soup, Blackstone Said to Bid for Bolthouse Farms

May 4 (Bloomberg) -- Campbell Soup Co. and Blackstone Group LP made bids for natural juice maker WM Bolthouse Farms Inc., according to people with knowledge of the matter.

First-round offers, which were due April 27, also came from other private-equity firms, said one of the people, who declined to be identified because the deliberations are private. Bids submitted to Madison Dearborn Partners LLC, the Chicago-based private-equity firm that owns Bolthouse Farms, came in higher than $1.5 billion, said one of the people.

Chuck Dohrenwend, a spokesman for Madison Dearborn who works for the Abernathy MacGregor Group, declined to comment.

Campbell’s U.S. beverage unit, led by its V8 fruit and vegetable juice brand, has been a bright spot for the company amid sluggish soup sales. Bolthouse would add scale to help contain rising costs, which contributed to a 35 percent decline in the unit’s operating income in the first half of this fiscal year.

Bolthouse dates back almost a century, when the family of the same name began commercial vegetable farming in Michigan, according to the company’s website. Bolthouse now counts fresh carrots, salad dressings and juices among its products. The company also has a line of teas and lemonades.

Madison Dearborn acquired Bolthouse in 2005, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

U.S. beverage sales for Campbell rose 4 percent in the quarter ended Jan. 29. U.S. soup sales fell 2 percent, hurt by a 12 percent decline in ready-to-eat versions. Sauce sales in the U.S. also fell 2 percent as private-label salsa cut into the company’s market share.

To contact the reporters on this story: Jeffrey McCracken in New York at jmccracken3@bloomberg.net; Duane D. Stanford in Atlanta at dstanford2@bloomberg.net; Cristina Alesci in New York at calesci2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Robin Ajello at rajello@bloomberg.net

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