MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — General Mills Inc. said Wednesday that it has signed a deal to buy a controlling stake in French yogurt company Yoplait for about $1.15 billion.

The deal protects General Mills’ U.S. yogurt business. The food maker has sold Yoplait, the world’s second-largest yogurt brand, under license in the U.S. for 30 years. The companies have been in arbitration about the future of that license.

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Under the terms of the deal with PAI partners and French dairy cooperative Sodiaal announced Wednesday, General Mills will take a 51 percent stake in Yoplait SAS and a 50 percent interest in a related entity that holds the worldwide Yoplait brands. Sodiaal will hold the remaining stakes.

The acquisition still needs regulatory approval. General Mills Inc. expects the deal to close in its first quarter, which begins May 30.

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Yoplait has about 1,900 employees and reported revenues of about $1.03 billion for its fiscal year that ended June 30, 2010.

For General Mills, growth in Yoplait sales and other segments helped offset weakness in its core cereal business in its most recent quarter. The Minneapolis company’s brands include Cheerios, Fiber One, Haagen-Dazs, Nature Valley, Betty Crocker, Pillsbury, Green Giant and Old El Paso.

General Mills shares fell 7 cents to $39.80 in morning trading Wednesday.

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