Unilever swallows Russia's leading ice-cream maker

Unilever yesterday moved to cement its position as the world's biggest ice-cream producer, buying Inmarko, the Russian market leader, for an undisclosed sum.

Inmarko was founded in 1991, and has factories in Novosibirsk, where it was founded, Omsk and Tuka. It employs 4,500. It recorded sales of nearly £90m last year, 28 per cent up on the previous year, and has expanded quickly from a strong position in central and eastern Russia. It also operates in Kazakhstan.

Unilever's existing ice-cream businesses are run under the Heart brand, and include Magnum and Cornetto, as well as Ben & Jerry's. Figures from the market analyst Euromonitor give it a 17.5 share of the global market for ice-cream, ahead of second-placed Nestlé on 14.5 per cent.

Unilever said it was keen to strengthen its position in Russia, which it sees as a priority country for expansion, and Inmarko would give it another platform from which to develop.

Unilever already owns four large Russian enterprises, including a perfume factory in St Petersburg and the Tula brand, and has invested heavily in tea-packing facilities.

"We will put Inmarko at the heart of our ice-cream business in Russia and build on its successful strategy, powerful portfolio and great talent and know-how," said Vindi Banga, Unilever's president for foods. "At the same time we will be looking together for opportunities to enrich and strengthen its competitiveness with Unilever's global scale and category expertise."

Dmitry Dokin, Inmarko's chairman, added: "We think this deal will give our business development a whole new perspective – Unilever's experience and resources will provide a significant impetus for our brands."

The deal is subject to regulatory approval, but is expected to be completed during the first half of this year.

The Anglo-Dutch company is due to announce its results on Thursday, with management expected to reject calls for a return of cash to shareholders. The company will argue that it needs to maintain a war-chest in order to finance further acquisitions.

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