Unilever faces probe over Sara Lee

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The Independent Online

The European Commission's competition watchdog has launched a detailed investigation into Unilever's £1.1bn takeover of Sara Lee's personal care brands and laundry business in Europe.

Officials in Brussels said they needed to examine the consumer goods giant's acquisition following competition concerns about "several product markets, including deodorants, skin cleansing and fabric products".

The announcement of the inquiry means that the deadline for regulatory approval of the acquisition of Sara Lee's brands, which include Radox and Sanex, will be extended until 5 October. The previous deadline was 31 May.

Joaquin Almunia, the EU competition commissioner, said: "This merger creates significant overlaps in a number of products used by consumers on an everyday basis. We need to make sure that if there are competition concerns, they are duly addressed."

Under the acquisition unveiled last year, Unilever will acquire more than 90 brands across different product categories in 19 European countries. The Sara Lee brands, which Unilever plans to acquire, delivered sales in excess of €750m (£627m) for the year ending June 2009. The other Sara Lee brands it is seeking to acquire include Duschdas, the Monsavon skin cleansing products and Neutral laundry items.

Yesterday, the UK-based company said: "Unilever welcomes the opportunity to engage more fully with the Commission's competition authorities. Unilever believes the process will balance the legitimate interest of the Commission with the company's desire to maximise the opportunities from an acquisition that will deliver more value to consumers, customers and investors."

A spokesman added: "The deal is on track to be completed in the fourth quarter of 2010."