The processor - which employs about 15,000 people in the U.S. and owns a number of brands including DairyPure, TruMoo and Berkeley Farms - said that it intends to use the bankruptcy process to "protect and support its ongoing business operations and address debt and unfunded pension obligations while it works towards an orderly and efficient sale".
The company pointed to a challenging operating environment and continuing declines in consumer milk consumption as reason for the news, despite its "best efforts to make [the] business more agile and cost-efficient".
The Dallas-based company received a commitment of about $850 million in debtor-in-possession financing from existing lenders led by Rabobank.
Dean Foods, America's biggest milk processor, filed for bankruptcy Tuesday amid a decades-long drop-off in USA milk consumption blamed on changing trends and a growing variety of alternatives.
A McArthur Dairy, which is owned by Dean Foods, is pictured in Miami on Tuesday.
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Over the last two decades, Americans have drunk 26 percent less cow's milk per capita, according to data from the US Department of Agriculture.
Not all dairy products have been affected.
That there are so many beverage choices now doesn't help either-bottled waters (flavored or plain, with bubbles or without), juices (cold-pressed or traditional), teas (regular, green, black, red), sodas (old-school, craft, diet).
More recently, health and animal-welfare concerns have also contributed, as more shoppers seek out non-dairy alternatives. Sales of cow's milk dropped 2.4 per cent in that same time frame.
DFA, which was formed in 1998, replaced a faltering system of regional milk processors and grocers with a nationwide cooperative that now markets its members' milk and maintains 47 plants across the country that manufacture dairy products like cheese, butter and ice cream.
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Two-thirds of Dean Foods' sales came from fluid milk a year ago, according to its annual report.
Dean employs 16,000 people and operates 60 processing facilities across the country.
Dean Foods Co. has lost money in eight of its last 10 quarters and in seven of its last eight quarters it's posted declining sales.
The Central States Southeast & Southwest Areas Pension Plan is listed as the company's largest unsecured creditor, with a $722.4 million claim alongside Dean's $700 million of unsecured notes that mature in 2023.
Ceylor said Dean Foods' woes mirror what smaller producers are facing. In 2000, Southern Foods was acquired by Suiza Foods Corp., which bought Dean Foods a year later.
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