Unilever to pay $1.9 billion for Sara Lee unit

In a deal that proves that nobody doesn't like Sara Lee (SLE), consumer products giant Unilever (UL) agreed to acquire Sara Lee's body care and European detergents business for €1.28 billion ($1.88 billion), the companies announced Friday.

The Sara Lee businesses to be acquired by Unilever generated some €750 million ($1 billion) in sales in the 12 months ending June, and include well-known European product brands like Sanex, Radox and Duschdas. The companies expect to close on the deal sometime next year, pending regulatory approvals.

The sale of the units is part of Sara Lee's plan to focus more on its core food and beverage business, where the company enjoys a strong competitive advantage, said CEO Brenda C. Barnes. Sara Lee is perhaps best known for its line of desserts, which include frozen cheesecake, as well as its Ball Park Franks brand of hot dogs.

Sara Lee noted it has received "significant interest in the remainder of its household business and is continuing to pursue divestiture options for this business, which includes air care, shoe care, insecticides and non-European cleaning brands."

Sara Lee will use proceeds from the sale for business investment and to buy back $1 billion in stock. The Downers Grove, Illinois-based company also said it would maintain an 11-cent dividend for the next four quarters, regardless of the timing of the deal.

For its part, Unilever said the Sara Lee brands will complement its well-known stable of cleansing products, such as Dove and Axe. The London-based company is the world's third largest consumer products company behind Procter & Gamble Co. (PG) and Nestlé (NSRGY).

"The acquisition will strengthen Unilever's leadership positions overall in Western Europe," the company said in a statement. "In addition, there is significant potential to build these brands in developing and emerging markets, which already generate approximately 15 percent of their annual sales."

The deal makes sense, an analyst said. "The positioning of Sara Lee is more mid-market and below the other Unilever brands," said Fernand de Boer of Petercam Bank in a note on the deal, according to the Associated Press. The deal fits into a strategy "to play the entire price spectrum of the portfolio in order to be better able to anticipate changes in the economic conditions."

Shares of Sara Lee rose Friday, up more than 5 percent to $11.11 in late-morning trading on the New York Stock Exchange. Unilever shares were fractionally higher at $27.90 each.
Read Full Story

From Our Partners