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July 25, 2017

PE firms ‘circling Unilever spreads division’

Reports are emerging a consortium of private-equity firms is preparing a bid for the GBP6bn (US$7.84bn) Unilever spreads division that houses the Flora margarine and I Can't Believe It's Not Butter brands.

By Andy Coyne

Reports are emerging a consortium of private-equity firms is preparing a bid for the GBP6bn (US$7.84bn) Unilever spreads division that houses the Flora margarine and I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter brands.

The reports suggest private-equity firms Clayton Dubilier & Rice and Bain Capital have begun working together on an offer for Unilever’s group’s spreads business, which the Anglo-Dutch group has indicated it might offload.

When contacted by just-food.com, Clayton Dubilier & Rice said it does not comment on any deals it might be involved in prior to them being announced. A spokesperson for Bain Capital said it does not have any comment to make at the moment.

And a spokesperson for Unilever said the company does not comment on market speculation.

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 Country Crock.

Unilever 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.

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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 last week, 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”.

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