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Campbell Said to Be Among Final Contenders for Bolthouse

Campbell Soup Co. is among the final bidders for Bolthouse Farms Inc., the vegetable-juice maker being auctioned by Madison Dearborn Partners LLC, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

Bolthouse asked for final bids this week to complete a sale in the next couple weeks, said two of these people, who asked not to be identified as the process is private. Campbell is vying with private-equity firms such as Blackstone Group LP, and bids came in at $1.5 billion to $2 billion, the people said.

Buying Bolthouse would help the world’s largest soupmaker bolster its U.S. beverage division, which makes the V8 brand of juice and accounted for about 10 percent of sales in the year ended July 31. That unit was Camden, New Jersey-based Campbell’s fastest-growing last quarter, generating $208 million in revenue.

Previous management at Campbell had considered bids for Bolthouse and passed, said one of these people. Campbell Chief Executive Officer Denise Morrison, who took over last year, is more interested than predecessor Doug Conant was, said the person.

Campbell may be interested in buying Bolthouse to make the company less reliant on its core soup business, Jack Russo, analyst at Edward Jones & Co. in St. Louis, said in a phone interview. Morrison has been open to growing through acquisition, Russo said.

“They are looking to lessen their dependence on soup because it has been a tough category,” Russo said. “This deal fits in with the V8 business.”

Beverage Sales

Campbell’s U.S. beverage business boosted sales 2 percent to $593 million through the nine months ended April 29. Its U.S. Simple Meals business, which includes soup, has declined 2 percent to $2.3 billion during the same nine months.

Private-equity firms such as Ares Management LLC and Advent International Corp. also explored bids for Bolthouse, said one of these people.

Anthony Sanzio, a spokesman for Campbell, declined to comment, as did officials at Blackstone, Madison Dearborn, Ares and Advent.

Campbell rose 0.1 percent to $33.43 at 1:04 p.m. in New York. The shares gained 0.5 percent this year through July 2.

Madison Dearborn’s Investments

Bolthouse’s roots date back almost a century, when the family of the same name began commercial vegetable farming in Michigan, according to the company’s website. Bolthouse’s annual earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization are more than $150 million, said two people familiar with the matter. The carrot business provides about two-thirds of the profit, said these two people.

Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Credit Suisse Group AG are advising Chicago-based Madison Dearborn on the sale, people familiar with the matter have said. Officials at Goldman Sachs and Credit Suisse declined to comment.

Madison Dearborn, founded 20 years ago in Chicago, acquired Bolthouse in 2005, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The buyout firm’s other investments have included pay-as-you-go wireless carrier MetroPCS Communications Inc. and LA Fitness International LLC, a North American chain of gyms.

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