Bakersfield carrot giant Bolthouse Farms will be sold to a Los Angeles-based private equity firm for $510 million in cash — roughly a third what it went for seven years ago — and welcome back its former CEO under a pending transaction announced April 12.

The sale agreement completes Campbell Soup Co.'s divestiture of its entire Campbell Fresh division, which the New Jersey-based company announced it would sell in September.

The buyer, an affiliate of Butterfly Equity, said it specializes in ag and aquaculture, food and beverage products, food distribution and food service. Bolthouse represents its fourth investment.

Once the sale closes this summer, former Bolthouse President and CEO Jeff Dunn will resume his leadership of the company, Butterly stated. Dunn led Bolthouse from 2008 until 2016. He now serves as operating partner at Butterfly.

"Bolthouse Farms holds a special place in the produce industry and my team and I are deeply committed to strengthening and broadening Bolthouse Farms' unique legacy," Dunn said in a news release April 12. "We can't wait to get started."

Campbell bought Bolthouse  in mid-2012 for $1.55 billion in cash from Chicago-based private equity firm Madison Dearborn Partners LLC, which purchased the company for an undisclosed sum in 2005.

Campbell originally said the Bolthouse acquisition was part of a plan to grow its presence in supermarkets' refrigerated section. But this strategy soured over time and in May of 2018 the company lost its top health-food advocate, former CEO Denise Morrison.

When Campbell announced late last summer it would market Bolthouse for sale, the company said it wanted to refocus on the iconic soup company's core businesses, including non-refrigerated snacks, meals and juices. It said it also wanted to pay off debt, keep its investment-grade rating and provide dividends to company shareholders.

Both other components of Campbell's fresh-foods division — Garden Fresh Gourmet and its refrigerated soup factory in Everett, Wash. — have since been sold off, leaving Bolthouse as its only maker of refrigerated foods.

Bolthouse was founded in 1915 in Grant, Mich. Now with headquarters in Bakersfield and Santa Monica, the company is a leader in fresh carrots and premium, refrigerated drinks and salad dressings. It also makes smoothies, café beverages, protein drinks and plant-protein milk.

As of mid-2012, half of Bolthouse's revenues came from carrots, while about a third if its sales came from drinks and salad dressings.

Butterly said Bolthouse has access to more than 65,000 acres of prized growing land, nationwide fresh distribution capabilities and a state-of-the-art carrot and beverage processing facility. It also has 2,200 employees, 100 more than when Campbell bought it seven years ago, and operations in Bakersfield; Hodgkins, Ill.; Prosser, Wash.; and Wheatley, Ontario.

John Cox can be reached at 661-395-7404. Follow him on Twitter: @TheThirdGraf.

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