Unilever announced today that it intends to divest Bestfoods Baking Company in the U.S.A.

The business was acquired as part of Unilever's merger with Bestfoods which closed on October 4.

Bestfoods Baking Company is the leading premium fresh baked goods company in the U.S. and in 1999 had sales of U.S. $1.7 billion. Headquartered in Bay Shore, New York, it has 19 plants across the country selling mainly to retailers. Its best known brands are Entenmann's, Thomas' English muffins and bagels, and Oroweat, Brownberry and Arnold breads.

Commenting on the decision, Patrick Cescau, the Unilever director responsible for Bestfoods, said: "We recognize that Bestfoods have built an outstanding fresh baking business in the U.S.A. with a very strong management team. However, this activity falls outside Unilever's strategy which focuses on a reduced number of brands in defined categories. We have therefore decided to seek a new owner for the baking business for whom it will be a better fit."

Goldman Sachs has been engaged to assist Unilever in the sale process. Further announcements will be made as appropriate.

UNILEVER BACKGROUND: Unilever is one of the world's largest consumer products companies with sales of $52 billion. It produces and markets a wide range of foods, home and personal care products. Unilever operates in 88 countries around the globe and employs 300,000 people.

In the United States, Unilever sales were $10 billion in 1999. It employs 38,000 people and has 104 offices and manufacturing sites in 27 states. Two of Unilever's 12 global Business Groups are headquartered in the United States. Some of their major products are: Foods - North America: Lipton teas, soups, recipe products and side dishes; Wish-Bone salad dressings; Lawry's seasonings and specialty sauces; Imperial, Promise, Country Crock, "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter!", Brummel & Brown spreads and sprays; Ragu pasta and pizza sauces; Five Brothers premium pasta sauces; Knorr soups, sauces and bouillons; Hellmann's mayonnaise and dressings; Skippy peanut butter; Mazola oils; Entenmann's, Thomas' and Arnold baked goods; Klondike, Good-Humor, Popsicle, Breyers and Ben & Jerry's ice cream products; Gorton's frozen seafood products and Slim-Fast nutritional and health snack products. Unilever Home and Personal Care - North America: Wisk, "all" and Surf laundry detergents; Snuggle and Final Touch fabric softeners; Sunlight dish detergents; Lever 2000, Caress, Dove and Shield bar soaps; Pond's and Vaseline skin care products; Q-tips cotton swabs and cotton balls; Mentadent, Aim, Close-up and Pepsodent oral care products; Degree, Suave and Brut deodorant/toiletry products; Finesse, Salon Selectives, Suave, ThermaSilk, Aqua Net and Rave hair care products; and Calvin Klein, Nautica, Vera Wang and Elizabeth Arden cosmetic and fragrance products. In addition, DiverseyLever, a global professional cleaning business, operates in North America, supplying professional cleaning materials and services to institutional and industrial markets.

  • Bestfoods Baking business is in a category which does not exist elsewhere in Unilever and has its own business characteristics. It is believed to have a greater value outside Unilever.

  • Selling this business is consistent with Unilever's Path to Growth strategy of concentrating on a limited number of brands that it is able to grow and expand within its core categories.

  • This is a very strong business which is likely to be attractive to a number of potential buyers and it is expected to attract a premium price.

  • Unilever expects a deal to be announced within the first half of next year.

  • This is a stand-alone business and Unilever anticipates no major separation issues. Managing the separation can be done without diverting resources from the task of integrating the Bestfoods culinary business.

  • In 1999 sales were around $1.7 billion, with an operating margin of 8%, a good performance in its industry.

  • The business is entirely US based. Headquartered in Bay Shore, New York, it has 19 plants across the country and employs 12,000 people.

  • Its best known brands are Entenmann's, Thomas' English muffins and bagels, Oroweat, Brownberry and Arnold breads.