BUYOUT FIRM OUTBIDS HEINZ FOR VLASIC BRANDS

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Vlasic Foods International, Cherry Hill, N.J., has announced an agreement to sell the assets of its North American frozen foods and condiments businesses to buyout firm Hicks, Muse, Tate & Furst for $370 million.

Vlasic had agreed sell its Open Pit barbecue sauce and its Vlasic pickle and condiments business to H.J. Heinz Co. for roughly $179 million after it filed for bankruptcy in late January. But Hicks, Muse has offered to purchase those units plus the Swanson frozen foods brand. The current agreement, like the Heinz deal, is subject to a U.S. Bankruptcy Court competitive bid process. The court has set a May 3 date for new bids on Vlasic's assets.

A Heinz spokesman said Heinz is "not willing make a counteroffer for the entire business, as Vlasic's frozen business doesn't fit within our strategic interest. We saw pickles and BBQ sauce as an incremental opportunity, and that's where our focus was."

Hicks, Muse, together with its food acquisition partner, C. Dean Metropoulos, stated its intentions to create a separate company for the three businesses and to use that as a platform for additional growth in the food industry, a Vlasic spokesman said.

The firm, which most recently built, took public and sold the food company International Home Foods, "has a track record of driving growth through effective marketing initiatives," the spokesman said.

While Hicks, Muse has said it intends to hold on to Vlasic's current management team, which includes North American president Mark McCallum, it would likely name Mr. Metropoulos to head the new company, replacing former Vlasic CEO, Robert Bernstock.

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