Unilever sells John West to Heinz

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Unilever has sold its UK-based John West Foods business to HJ Heinz and Co for around pounds 40m. The sale is part of the strategy outlined by Niall FitzGerald, Unilever's chairman, of focusing on "power brands" that it can market around the world.

Best known for its canned fish, particularly salmon, John West has not been a high-margin business for Unilever as the company does not manufacture or can the products. Based in Liverpool, the UK business employs just 88 people in importing, distributing and marketing functions. The business achieved sales of pounds 150m last year.

Unilever said it was selling the business as the John West range of canned fish and vegetables were no longer considered a priority. However, it will retain the John West operations in Australia and New Zealand as these are part of larger integrated food businesses.

The company was founded by John West, a Scot born near Edinburgh, who emigrated to the United States. It was formed as a partnership in the 1860s and the first John West salmon products reached England in 1869.

The company has been associated with Unilever since the 1920s. It has been a wholly owned subsidiary of Unilever since the 1960s. Heinz said the John West deal was "another key step in Project Millennia, Heinz's re-organisation and growth plan".