Private-equity firms Blackstone and CVC Capital Partners are said to have approached Unilever for approval to put in a joint bid for the food giant’s spreads business.

Sky News has reported the two buy-out houses have teamed up to prepare an offer for the division, which includes brands such as Flora and Country Crock.

Ex-Unilever COO Harish Manwani and Marc Bolland, the former CEO of UK grocers Morrisons and Marks and Spencer, now work for Blackstone. Sky News said the two men are to be involved in the joint offer for the unit.

Officials at CVC and Blackstone had not returned requests for comment at the time of writing.

Last week, the broadcaster reported two other private-equity firms – Clayton Dubilier & Rice and Bain Capital – had started work on a bid for the business.

In April, Unilever announced plans to “exit” the spreads category, either through a disposal or a de-merger of its business in the sector, which also includes brands such as Becel and Blue Band.

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By GlobalData

In recent years, Unilever has faced repeated calls in some quarters of the investment community to sell the under-pressure spreads business, which has endured declining sales in a subdued sector.

In late 2014, Unilever announced it would separate the spreads arm from its wider food division and put it in a standalone unit. However, the performance of the unit remained lacklustre and Unilever continued to face pressure to dispose of the business.

Unilever resisted but speculation grew earlier this year the company could decide to look for a buyer for the unit as part of an operational review, announced in the wake of the FMCG giant’s decision to rebuff takeover interest from Kraft Heinz, to “accelerate” the value it could give to its shareholders.

Speaking to reporters two weeks ago, after Unilever announced its financial results for the first six months of 2017, Paul Polman, the company’s CEO, indicated the group expected to be able to make an announcement on the future of its spreads business “towards the end of this year”.