Unilever continues weed-out

Niall FitzGerald, the new Unilever chairman, confirmed his strategy of weeding out non-core businesses yesterday when the company sold a micro- biology division to venture capital group CinVen.

CinVen is buying the professional micro-biology unit of the conglomerate's Unipath business in a deal worth pounds 84.6m. This includes fresh banking facilities to fund expansion and Unilever yesterday declined to reveal the precise sale price.

Though not technically a management buyout, CinVen will retain the group's existing management. They are also expected to obtain a stake in the business which has 600 staff and recorded sales of pounds 60m last year.

The business, which will be renamed Oxoid, is based in Basingstoke and manufactures materials used by hospitals, pathology units and the food and pharmaceutical industries.

Outside the UK, Oxoid also has manufacturing plants in Germany and sales offices across Europe, Australia and Canada.

Unilever will concentrate on Unipath's consumer goods activities which are based in Bedford. They include the Clearblue pregnancy test kits and the recently launched Persona systems of contraception.

Mr FitzGerald, who took over the reins at Unilever in September, stated previously that he wanted to dispose of underperforming or non-core businesses. Unilever sold Mrs Butterwell, an American syrups and pancakes business, just before Christmas.

Mr FitzGerald has already slimmed down Unilever's group executive committee and plans to merge some operating subsidiaries into a simpler structure.