Upfield is the company formed in 2018 to manage the margarine brands previously owned by Unilever. It is the world's biggest margarine producer by far with around 27% global share. Unilever was effectively a business built on margarine. Along with soap, margarine was the product which laid the foundation for the company, and it remained the world's leading manufacturer by some margin right until 2018. Growing consumer interest in healthy eating provided a solid foundation for growth in the 1980s and 1990s, but those gains were steadily eradicated during the early 2000s. Instead, the group 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 was the profusion of different local names under which its products operated, which limited cost-sharing and coordinated marketing. In 2015, Unilever split out its spreads as a separate unit from the main Unilever Foods division, prompting speculation that it would ultimately to sell the business. An agreement was finally reached at the end of 2017. Private equity fund KKR acquired the company for €6.8bn, and re-established it under the corporate name Upfield. (In South Africa, Unilever made a separate deal to sell its margarine brands to local company RCL Foods). The portfolio ranges from value-priced traditional margarines to enhanced "heart healthy" plant-based spreads. Lead brands Becel, Flora and I Can't Believe It's Not Butter are positioned as "better for you" spreads derived from non-hydrogenated vegetable oils, while the Proactiv sub-brand (known as Take Control in the US) actively reduces "bad" cholesterol levels. These are accompanied by a vast collection of traditional margarines. Rama and Blue Band are the most widely available in Europe, Shedd's Country Crock is lead brand in the US. Other products in the portfolio include Doriana and Dorina in Latin America, Planta Fin in France, Solo and Planta in Belgium, Laetta in Germany and Sweden, Milda in Scandinavia, Sana in Turkey, Tulipan in Spain and Delma in Eastern Europe. In the current decade, the growing consumer interest in non-dairy products offers an important and long-awaited advantage for Upfield's products over traditional butter, and it has begun converting all its lead products to 100% plant-based production. A new addition to the portfolio is plant-based manufacturer Arivia, maker of vegan cheese under the Violife and Viotros brands. It was acquired in 2020 for a reported €500m. David Haines is CEO of Upfield Group. Global revenues are around €2.5bn. Upfield UK reported revenues of £187m for 2019. Volume sales have fallen steadily in the UK, but those declines have been offset by higher prices.
Capsule checked 26th August 2020
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Who are the competitors of Upfield spreads? Upfield has no global competitor in margarine other than private label manufacturers. Its biggest rival - with global share of only around 5% - is Bunge, which mainly specialises in private label. Local competitors include ConAgra in the US. The company's main competition comes from butter, and companies such as Arla Foods, Lactalis and Fonterra. See Food Sector for other companies
Historical profile information for Unilever margarine
Adbrands Weekly Update 21st Dec 2017: Deals, deals, deals. The arrival of Christmas always acts as a pressing motivational factor to get deals done and out of the way in time for the holidays. It was one deal out and one deal in this week for Unilever. The more significant of the two by far was a long-awaited agreement to exit the margarine business. Private equity fund KKR is to acquire Unilever Baking Cooking & Spreads, the self-contained entity that houses the group's extensive global collection, for €6.8bn. Brands include Country Crock and I Can't Believe It's Not Butter in the US, Rama and Stork across much of Europe, and Flora and Becel in multiple global markets, among other brands. Unilever is the world's biggest margarine producer by far - indeed virtually the only international branded manufacturer - but sales have been in steady decline for years as a result of the spectacular resurgence of butter.
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 €5bn 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.
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