Is Unilever going to sell its food business?

Unilever has refused to comment on speculation in London that its food businesses may be up for sale as it announced better-than-expected half-year results last week.

Analysts at investment bank Liberum Capital have said that they expected Unilever to sell its food arm, excluding its ice creams and beverages, for an estimated €14bn.

Unilever owns food brands such as Knorr soup, Flora spreads, Marmite and Magnum ice cream. It has four business units: Home Care; Personal Care; Savoury, Dressings & Spreads; and Ice Cream and Beverages.

Pablo Zuanic and Lisa Hau from Liberum wrote: We expect Unilever at some point to implement a large accretive acquisition in the HPC (household and personal care) space and to partly fund it by selling it’s the food unit (excluding ice cream and beverages) which we estimate can be sold at about one times sales (or €14bn).”

Rollits’ food group director Julian Wild said: “P&G recently exited food with the sale of Pringles and I would say a sale of Unilever’s food business was highly possible. Although it has a very big food interest you would not regard it as a food company. You see with Kraft and its announcement of a split in its business and with P&G that these companies want to focus.”

However, a Unilever spokesman has said it never comments on rumour or speculation.

Unilever saw net profit rose to 2.41bn euros (£2.09bn) for the first half of 2011 to June 30, up 9% on last year. However, it said profit margins were hit by the time-lag between costs rising and price increases coming into effect.

“In a tough and volatile environment we have again delivered strong growth,” said Unilever chief executive Paul Polman.

Unilever has been active in sales and acquisitions of late:

  • In July last year, Unilever announced that it had sold its Italian frozen foods business, Findus, for €805m to a company part-owned by Birds Eye Iglo.
  • In December it completed its acquisition of the Sara Lee Personal Care business for €1.275bn.
  • March this year saw the sale of its consumer tomato products business in Brazil to Cargill for approximately €260m.
  • In May Unilever acquired the beauty and personal care company, Alberto Culver, for $3.7bn.

Source: FoodNavigator