Shares of Dean Foods (DF) - Get Report plunged Wednesday after the dairy and beverage producer reported a wider-than-expected fourth-quarter loss and suspended its dividend, all while "reviewing strategic alternatives to boost shareholder value."

The maker of Land O'Lakes and Country Fresh dairy products said it lost $260.1 million, or $2.85 a share, in the fourth quarter vs. a profit of $52.3 million, or 57 cents a share, a year earlier. On an adjusted basis, it lost 50 cents a share, steeper than the 26 cents a share expected by analysts surveyed by FactSet.

Sales were roughly flat at $1.93 billion, though were higher than the FactSet consensus estimate of $1.91 billion. The company also said it was suspending its quarterly dividend, which in the third quarter was 3 cents a share.

Most significantly, the Dallas-based company said it was exploring strategic alternatives, which include an outright sale of the company, a merger or joint venture, selling off some assets or divisions, or going private.

"We are taking important actions to reshape the company to be more agile and more competitive in the marketplace. In tandem, to enhance shareholder value and accelerate our business transformation, we have initiated a review of strategic alternatives."

-- Dean Foods CEO Ralph Scozzafava

Dean Foods' shares were down 16% to $3.83 in trading Wednesday.

Increased competition from store-branded milk, cheese and other dairy products made by big-box stores like Walmart and even Amazon.com have made it more difficult for companies like Dean Foods to compete.

Dean is the largest U.S. supplier of milk and dairy to retailers, food-service outlets and schools, manufacturing its products under 50 brand names and under store labels. It processed about one-third of the fluid milk in the U.S. at its peak.