Unilever may be forced to sell Batchelors brand

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The Independent Online

Unilever, the Anglo-Dutch consumer products giant, could be forced by the European Commission to dispose of its Batchelors dried foods brand as a condition of the group's $20.3bn (£13.53bn) acquisition of Bestfoods, the US-based Hellmann's mayonnaise and Knorr soups maker.

Unilever, the Anglo-Dutch consumer products giant, could be forced by the European Commission to dispose of its Batchelors dried foods brand as a condition of the group's $20.3bn (£13.53bn) acquisition of Bestfoods, the US-based Hellmann's mayonnaise and Knorr soups maker.

It is understood that all or part of the Bachelors range, which includes products such as Cup a Soup, SuperNoodles and Bean Feast, would have to be sold to prevent Unilever from controlling a disproportionate share of the European dry meals market once it adds Bestfoods' top-selling Knorr brand to its portfolio.

A Unilever spokesman said: "I think it's fair to say that there will be some business disposals in the areas of overlap. But it's too early to say which brands may or may not be involved."

Analysts said that as well as Batchelors and Knorr, Brusselscould express concern about the combination of Unilever's Oxo cubes and Bestfoods' Bovril and Marmite stock mixes. Other potential stumbling blocks include the proposed joint ownership of Bestfoods' Hellmann's mayonnaise and Unilever's Amora Maille sauces.

Charles Mills, an analyst at Credit Suisse First Boston, said: "The problem areas are principally in Europe in soups and dry cook-in sauces ... Unilever will pick and choose the better brands that they see and Batchelors is a fairly old and tired name."

Unilever is already in the process of culling three quarters of its product lines to 400 in order to improve sales and margin. Earlier this month, it announced that it would split itself in two in a move which analysts said could lead to a multi-billion pound demerger.

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