Speculation that dairy and food processor Dean Foods might be sold has heightened after the firm called in Goldman Sachs, the US investment bank, to advise on strategic and financial alternatives.

Dean Foods said that it would report earnings below market expectations for the three months to February and issued a profit warning on full year earnings.

Chief Financial Officer Barbara Klein refused to comment on speculation relating to a possible sale. She said: “The board has asked Goldman to explore a broad range of strategic options. Beyond that, we don’t comment.”

Higher-than-expected fuel, production and raw-material costs as well as unexpectedly weak sales in its dairy division and its specialty-foods group have hit the company’s earning potential.

Dean said earnings for the quarter ended 28 February will be 45 cents to 47 cents a diluted share, while full-year earnings would be around about US$2.50-US$2.55, compared with a consensus estimate of about US$3.02.