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UK Jobs at risk as Unilever looks to sell Spreads business

Consumer giant Unilever is selling its £6billion Flora and Stork spreads business in a major shake-up after a £115billion takeover bid from Kraft Heinz.

In a wide-ranging overhaul, boss Paul Polman pledged a £4.3billion share buy-back, and a 12 per cent dividend hike.

The divisions which make Marmite and Magnum ice creams will be merged and its London stock market listing could be scrapped.

And the company, which employs 7,000 people in the UK, intends to ramp up its cost savings from £3.4billion to £5billion over the next three years.

Unilever is listed in the UK and in the Netherlands, but the firm has now put this legal structure under review, with one country likely to be chosen for listing.

Unilever is cutting back through a method of budgeting where all expenses must be justified – starting from a 'zero base' – from pens to printing paper.

The restructure was sparked by demands from shareholders that Polman release value from the business following the company's rejection of the US offer.

Selling the spreads division, which has been declining for 20 years, is aimed at allowing Unilever to focus on faster-growing brands such as Dove deodorant.

And it will free cash to invest in rising stars, such as the Dollar Shave Club, which it bought for about £800million last year.

It is also combining its food and refreshment businesses, and cutting senior management jobs in the process.
Polman pointed towards the failed Kraft bid, saying: 'There is no doubt that however short- lived the opportunity was, it did raise expectations. We are absolutely determined to use the opportunity to place Unilever on an even stronger footing.'

Along with the other measures, Polman slashed advertising and marketing spending.

Unilever's spreads business has been in steady decline for the last two decades as margarine fell out of fashion and consumers went back to butter.

If it fails to find a buyer willing to pay enough for the 30 or so brands, Unilever will consider turning the £2.6billion-a-year spread business into a separate company.

Polman, paid almost £10million last year, will use the cash for potential acquisitions. Reckitt Benckiser wants to sell its condiments division, which includes French's mustard, and could find a buyer in Unilever.

Polman, who is already reviewing the business, said: 'We have to look to understand what that business is, and then make a decision about if we want to be part of the buying process.'

But Polman insisted a decision to review its legal structure had nothing to do with Brexit.

'There are many companies that have headquarters in the UK and many others that have headquarters in the Netherlands,' he said. 'We will be using the nine months to study the pluses and minuses of both.'

Unilever shares closed up 1 per cent, or 38.5p, at 3978p.

Source: - 6 April 2017