Financial News

  • 23 January 2014, 9:06

Unilever Explores 1bn Deal To Shed SlimFast

The consumer products giant Unilever is exploring a sale of SlimFast, its weight loss range, in a deal that would inevitably crystallise a big loss for the company.

Sky News has learnt that Unilever has been discussing a potential disposal of the brand as it seeks to focus on the core brands in its portfolio.

The company is at the early stages of examining whether to sell SlimFast, according to people close to the situation, and it is possible that Unilever may decide to retain the business following a review of its options.

The Anglo-Dutch food and personal care group acquired Slimfast in 2000 in a $2.4bn (1.44bn) deal.

Originally a range of milk and soy-based milkshakes developed by the Thompson Medical Company, Unilever has struggled to make the transaction pay off despite growing consumer interest in slimming and dieting brands.

It was unclear on Wednesday whether Unilever has formally hired bankers to sound out prospective buyers of SlimFast, although Goldman Sachs is often used by the company's executives on food-related deals.

Unilever is widely regarded as having under-invested in research and development as well as promotional activity for the SlimFast range in recent years.

The company does not break down sales figures for individual brands but revenues from the dieting range are understood to have declined on an annual basis during the last few years.

It is unclear who is likely to be interested in acquiring SlimFast if its current owner does opt to pursue a sale.

Last November, Nestle, the Swiss-based consumer goods-maker sold the US and Australian operations of its weight loss business, Jenny Craig, to North Castle Partners, a private equity group.

US-listed WeightWatchers, Jenny Craig and SlimFast are part of a market estimated to be worth more than $11bn (6.6bn) in annual retail sales globally.

Paul Polman, Unilever chief executive, has already embarked on a drive to simplify the company, and is shedding non-core brands such as Peperami, the beef jerky product.

On Tuesday, the company said that growing competition in developed markets was likely to restrict sales growth during the next year, although it beat City analysts' forecasts in 2012.

A spokeswoman for Unilever, which makes Ben & Jerry's ice cream, Dove shampoo, Lynx deodorants and Marmite, said the company did not comment on rumour or speculation.

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