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By Diane Bartz
WASHINGTON, April 3 (Reuters) - French food group Danone SA has won U.S. antitrust approval to buy U.S. organic food producer WhiteWave Foods Co, the Justice Department said on Monday.
To win approval for the $10.4 billion deal, Danone agreed to sell its leading U.S. organic yoghurt business Stonyfield Farms, the department said.
Danone did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
In July, the French company announced plans to buy WhiteWave in its largest acquisition since 2007, a move it said would double the size of its U.S. business.
Danone’s brands include Dannon, Evian, Bonafont and the medical nutrition brand Nutricia. The purchase of WhiteWave, Danone’s largest acquisition since 2007, will help it woo affluent consumers who buy WhiteWave’s health food offerings such as Silk almond milk and Earthbound Farm organic salad.
But the Justice Department said in its complaint that the deal could hurt both organic milk sellers and buyers in the northeastern United States because WhiteWave and longtime Danone partner CROPP Cooperative are the top purchasers of raw organic milk in the United States.
CROPP provides 90 percent of the organic milk and other dairy products used in Stonyfield products. In addition to selling Stonyfield, Danone will also sever the strategic partnership with CROPP as a condition for buying WhiteWave, the Justice Department said.
The French company announced in July plans to buy WhiteWave in its largest acquisition since 2007, a move it said at the time would double the size of its U.S. business.
WhiteWave has been seen as an attractive target since it was spun off from Dean Foods in 2012.
WhiteWave, which specializes in organic products, has outperformed mainstream packaged food businesses in recent years as consumers shift toward natural foods and healthier eating.
Danone said it expected the deal to increase its influence with retailers, particularly for in-store promotions and shelf space. (Reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by Sandra Maler and David Gregorio)