Unilever is effectively a business built on margarine. Along with soap, margarine was the product which laid the foundation for the company, and the group remains the world's leading manufacturer by some margin. Growing consumer interest in healthy eating provided a solid foundation for growth in the 1980s and 1990s, but those gains have been eradicated since 2000. Instead, the group has faced a daunting challenge in several markets from butter, which has regained its strength after years of being perceived as an unhealthy product. Another significant weakness in Unilever's portfolio is the profusion of different local names under which its products operate, which limit cost-sharing and coordinated marketing. Brands include Rama, Flora, Becel, Blue Band and Pro.Activ, themselves broadly split into two groups, referred to within the company as Healthy Heart and Family Goodness. In 2015, Unilever split out its spreads as a separate unit from the main Unilever Foods division, prompting speculation that it might ultimately to sell the business.
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|Flora pro.activ||Fruit d'Or pro.activ|
|I Can't Believe It's Not Butter||Milda|
Adbrands Weekly Update 28th Sep 2017: Unilever took the first steps towards the sell-off of its margarine and spreads division, while also resolving the shared ownership of its South African subsidiary. Unilever South Africa is currently minority-owned by Remgro, the investment vehicle of Johann Rupert, also chairman of luxury group Richemont. Under a new deal, Remgro will surrender its near-26% stake in the local Unilever entity in return for the company's South African margarine portfolio plus around £275m in cash. The deal values the local spreads business at around £390m.
Adbrands Weekly Update 6th Apr 2017: As expected, Unilever confirmed plans to divest its spreads & margarine division as part of a broad strategic revamp in the wake of Kraft Heinz's failed takeover bid. It will also combine the foods and refreshment divisions as a single business, and will reward shareholders for their support with an increased dividend and a E5bn share buyback.
Adbrands Weekly Update 23rd Mar 2017: The UK's Sunday Times newspaper reported that Unilever is "lining up" the sale of its margarine portfolio for up to £6bn. No firm evidence was offered for the story, but it follows a wide-ranging review of Unilever's business following the shock takeover approach by Kraft Heinz earlier this month. The margarine business has for several years been one of the weakest remaining parts of Unilever's foods portfolio. Other poorly performing brands have already been sold, and in 2015 Unilever carved out the "Baking Cooking & Spreading" unit as a standalone entity to encourage better performance. This has not been forthcoming. Kraft Heinz could be among the possible bidders for that business, though a private equity buyer is more likely.
Adbrands Weekly Update 21st Jan 2016: Analysts are betting 2016 might see the sell-off of Unilever's heritage margarine business. In a call to investors to announce annual results, Unilever CEP Paul Polman confirmed the departure of Sean Gogarty, who had been heading the troubled spreads division, which is still reeling from the surging global popularity of butter. He was replaced by marketing head Nicolas Lebeuf.
Adbrands Weekly Update 5th Dec 2014: Unilever announced plans to split out its struggling margarine and olive oil spreads business as a distinct unit, separate from the main foods division. Though brands such as Flora, Becel and Rama make Unilever the world's biggest manufacturer of margarine, sales have plunged in the wake of renewed consumer interest in full-fat butter. In many key markets including the UK, Unilever's "heart-healthy" margarine brands have been overtaken by the likes of Arla's Lurpak. The new unit will be given greater freedom to take strategic decisions and radical action, but many observers believe the move to be a first step towards a sale of the business, which once formed the core of Unilever's global operations. The group denied such speculation, saying that margarine "remains a core part of our business. This proposal is all about reigniting the growth of our spreads business to drive Unilever's long term success".
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