More Unilever brands change hands

Related tags Cadbury plc Unilever

Even four years into its five-year Path to Growth programme,
Unilever still has plenty of non-core brands to offload. The latest
are Ambrosia and Brown & Poulson, two well-known ambient food
brands in the UK market, which have been bought by Premier Foods.

Even four years into its five-year Path to Growth programme, Unilever​ still has a number of brands which it considers surplus to requirements.

After recent disposals such as Brut (men's toiletries) or a selection of minor cheese operations in Germany, the latest brands to change hands are the UK-based Ambrosia and Brown & Poulson, both of which have been acquired by Premier Foods​.

Ambrosia is part of the Unilever Bestfoods UK unit and is best known to British consumers for its creamed rice - although it makes a range of milk-based ambient desserts including ready-to-use custard and milk puddings.

Brown & Polson, meanwhile, is best known for its eponymous cornflour brand, although it also produces a range of ambient dessert products for the foodservice industry.

Although the price paid for the businesses was not disclosed, Unilever said that they would add around £60 million (€87m) to Premier's annual sales. In the first quarter of the current year, Premier reported sales of £217.1 million, an increase of 2.6 per cent.

After many years as a canned food producer, Premier began its rapid path towards diversification in 1986 with the acquisition of the tea and foods business of Cadbury Schweppes. This gave Premier a foothold in the hot chocolate, tea and preserves sectors under the Cadbury's, Typhoo, Chivers and Hartley's brands.

In 1994, the group acquired the licence to use the Loyd Grossman (a TV presenters and celebrity chef) name on a range of premium cooking sauces, while in 1996 the group acquired the HP canned food business. In 1999 the company was itself acquired by the Hicks, Muse, Tate & Furst venture capital group. Its latest acquisition, in 2002, saw it add the Branston, Crosse & Blackwell, Sarson's and Sun Pat brands previously owned by Nestlé.

The Path to Growth strategy has seen Unilever concentrate its efforts on a range of core brands in the food and non-food sectors, and has led to dozens of disposals since 1999. Neither Ambrosia nor Brown & Polson are considered as core brands for the Anglo-Dutch group, which said that the new owners would be "better placed to develop the businesses' true potential".

But the Path to Growth has not been without its pitfalls. Last month the company reduced its growth forecasts for 2003 for the second time since the summer, highlighting in particular the poor performance of the Slim-Fast business amid growing competition from 'trendy' diet fads such as the Atkins weight loss plan - an indication that even well-established brands are not immune from competition.

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