Unilever to sell margarine and spreads business to PE giant KKR

Unilever put its spreads division up for sale earlier in the year after a takeover approach from Kraft Heinz

Unilever product, Blue Band, at display in a supermarket.

Unilever, which employs 169,000 people worldwide, announced in April that it would offload some of its best-known brands - including Flora and Stork - after fending off a £115bn takeover attempt from Kraft Heinz.

The spreads business of Unilever is to be gobbled up KKR as part of a shake-up at the consumer goods group.

Anglo-Dutch food and consumer giant Unilever has said it has reached a 6.8-billion-euro ($8-billion) deal with US private equity giant KKR to sell its margarines business.

As previously announced, Unilever will acquire Remgro's 25.75% shareholding in Unilever South Africa Holdings (Pty) Ltd (Unilever SA) in exchange for the Unilever Spreads business in Southern Africa as well as a cash consideration. It plans to sell its underperforming spreads business, which could yield up to £6bn.

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"The announcement today marks a further step in reshaping and sharpening our portfolio for long-term growth", said Chief Executive Paul Polman.

Even as sales started to sag for its large stable of margarine brands - including Country Crock, I Can't Believe It's Not Butter and Imperial, the company set a hefty asking price of $8 billion, which was met by KKR, a source close to the situation said, New York Post reported. He added that it will help the momentum the company has achieved from the market's leading brands. That made it attractive to private equity firms who were the main bidders in the auction run by Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley.

Unilever intends to return the net cash realised to shareholders, unless it finds more value-creating acquisition opportunities. This month, rival Nestlé SA, which is under pressure from USA activist investor Third Point to boost shareholder value, struck a deal to acquire Canadian vitamin maker Atrium Innovations Inc. for $2.3 billion, including debt.

The deal is expected to be closed by May next year as a subject to regulatory approvals and employee consultations.

In 2017, Unilever has acquired small brands that include Sundial Brands, Carver Korea and Tazo tea.

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