Sara Lee might sell household, body care business

by Josh Sosland
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DOWNERS GROVE, ILL. — Having received "expressions of interest" in its International Household and Body Care business, Sara Lee Corp. on March 30 said it is "considering all alternatives for the segment, including the option to divest the business."

If Sara Lee chooses to sell the business, the transformation of the company from a diversified consumer products company to one focused exclusively on food and beverages would be complete.

Remaining Sara Lee divisions would include Fresh Bakery, North American Retail, Food Service, International Beverage and International Bakery.

Based in Utrecht, The Netherlands, the International Household and Body Care segment manufactures, distributes and markets products in more than 150 countries around the world. With $2.3 billion in sales and 8,000 employees, its household line includes hair care, shoe care, insecticide and laundry care products sold under the brand names Ambi Pur, Kiwi, Pyrel, Vapona, Biotex and Neutral. Its body care line includes products for bath and shower, deodorants, baby care, men’s toiletries and oral care sold under the brand names Sanex, Duschdas, Radox, Zwitsal, Brylcreem, Prodent and Zendium.

"Our household and body care business has very strong brands, great distribution and a talented leadership team," said Brenda C. Barnes, chairman and chief executive officer of Sara Lee. "In keeping with our commitment to value creation, we will carefully evaluate all opportunities and do what is in the best interest of the company and its stakeholders."

For longer than 10 years, Sara Lee has demonstrated a willingness to shed large parts of its business in an effort to focus its business and bolster profitability. Disposals included its Douwe Egberts Van Nelle tobacco business in 1998 and a series of businesses in 2000 — PYA/Monarch, Champion Europe, Coach, the International Fabrics division of Courtaulds and its international bakery businesses in France, India, China and the U.K.

After announcing a major restructuring in 2005, Sara Lee in 2006 sold its European meats and European branded apparel businesses. That same year, it spun-off to shareholders the Branded Apparel, Americas/Asia, business, into a separate, publicly traded company called Hanesbrands Inc. With those transactions, which generated $3.7 billion in proceeds, Sara Lee said it had become "tightly focused on its core businesses — food, beverage and household and body care."

While Sara Lee has made numerous acquisitions over this period, including the 2001 acquisition of The Earthgrains Co., the business is markedly smaller than in the mid-1990s.

The company’s annual sales in fiscal 1997 totaled $19.7 billion. Sales in fiscal 2008 were $13.2 billion, just under $11 billion excluding the body care and household business.

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