Tara Lachapelle
Bloomberg News

Tyson Foods Inc. is willing to attempt one of the food industry’s most expensive deals to keep Hillshire Brands Co. from selling anything besides hot dogs and sausages.

Earlier this month, Hillshire agreed to buy Pinnacle Foods Inc., the maker of Birds Eye frozen vegetables, Wish-Bone salad dressing and Duncan Hines cake mix. Its investors didn’t like the deal, and neither did meat and chicken producers Tyson and Pilgrim’s Pride Corp., who consider Hillshire a more valuable target as a meat company. Both jumped in with offers to acquire Hillshire and derail the Pinnacle purchase.

Tyson’s $6.2 billion bid, which trumped Pilgrim’s, already represents one of the richest valuations for a major takeover in the food industry, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Traders are betting that an even higher offer will emerge for Hillshire and that its plans to buy Pinnacle are probably dead.

The Pinnacle deal “didn’t make much sense to us, but on the plus side, it certainly spurred both of these potential acquirers to come out of the woodwork and make an offer for Hillshire while they can,” said Kevin Dreyer, a money manager at Gabelli Funds.

“Hillshire has only one real choice going forward and that’s to abandon the Pinnacle deal and engage with both of these parties, as well as anybody else that might be interested.”

Gabelli Funds is a unit of Gamco Investors Inc., which oversees about $48 billion and owns Hillshire and Tyson stock.

Mike Cummins, a spokesman for Chicago-based Hillshire, declined to comment beyond its press release Thursday, which said its board of directors will review Tyson’s proposal.

“We believe our offer represents the full and fair value for Hillshire and that the combined companies will generate significant synergies,” said Gary Mickelson, a spokesman for Tyson, in an emailed statement.