LONDON – Fitch Ratings said on Nov. 14 that it expects Unilever to continue cutting its exposure to low-growth stable foods in developed markets by selling individual brands.
“We believe Unilever will focus its disposal efforts on its savory, dressings and spreads business, where the potential for growth is weakest and where the company has little ability to add value through innovations in recipes or packaging, especially in the developed markets,” the ratings agency said. “One challenge for Unilever is that many of its remaining brands are global, making it harder to dispose of solely developed-market exposure. But we believe the company would be prone to dispose of global brands, albeit at the right price. A string of small divestments would maximize the value the group could obtain and would also be easier than finding a single buyer for a specific food category or brands globally in the current environment.”
Fitch added that in the third quarter of fiscal 2011 the underlying volumes in the savory, dressings and spreads unit of Unilever fell by 1% worldwide compared with a 6.2% increase in its personal care division. Brands in the savory, dressings and spreads unit include Hellman’s and Knorr.
“Unilever does not break those figures down by region, but volumes across all divisions fell 2.9% in western Europe, highlighting the reliance on emerging markets for growth,” Fitch said.
The Fitch report follows a Nov. 10 story in the Financial Times that said “Unilever’s board is concerned about the company’s dependence on food product sales in North America and Western Europe, where food consumption is slowing down, and the slow down has weighed on Unilever’s valuation …”
In late October, Unilever sold its Culver Specialty Brands business, which includes the Mrs. Dash, Molly McButter, Sugar Twin and Baker’s Joy brands, to B&G Foods, Parsippany, N.J., for $325 million.