Soy foods business Alpro has been sold to US dairy giant Dean Foods, it was announced today (15 June).

Dean Foods, the largest dairy processor in the US and the owner of brands including Rachel’s Organic in the UK, has agreed to pay EUR325m (US$449.9m) for Alpro.

Alpro’s owner, the Belgian food business Vandemoortele, first put the business up for sale in January after deciding to focus on its frozen bakery and lipids divisions.

Several food multinationals, including Unilever and Nestle, were rumoured to be keen on Alpro, which was also said to have attracted private equity interest.

However, Dean Foods chairman and CEO Gregg Engles said today that his business had secured a “great deal” that made the US group the “clear global leader” in soy beverages.

“This is one of the most strategic assets we could have acquired,” Engles said. “We see significant opportunities to leverage the collective strengths of both businesses across a global soy platform to accelerate growth.”

Alpro CEO Bernard Deryckere will report to Joe Scalzo, CEO and president of Dean Foods’ WhiteWave-Morningstar division. Alpro will be run as a separate European business.

“We are confident that this is a winning acquisition,” Scalzo said. “We fundamentally believe that the soy market is an emerging category with potential to bring more nutritious soy products to more people in more places around the world.”

Deryckere added: “With our successful European market strategy, compatible values and great staff, we can build a strong future as part of Dean Foods.”

Dean Foods, which already owns the Silk soymilk brand, said the deal was expected to be saelaed during the third quarter of the year and would be “modestly accretive” to 2009 earnings, excluding transaction-related costs.