EU expresses concerns over Unilever bid for Sara Lee

By Simon Pitman

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Sara lee European union

The European Commission says it is concerned that Unilever’s proposed acquisition of Sara Lee’s personal care business may breech anti-trust regulations.

In a statement Unilever said it had received a statement of objections from the Commission, but that it remained ‘confident' that an agreement for the deal could be reached by the end of this year.

The Commission has previously stated that it has competition concerns about overlapping business in several product categories, including deodorants and skin cleansing.

Objections could lead to sell off

Financial experts believe that a deal will be brokered once certain aspects of the business were remedied, or else some parts of the business, probably specific brands, were sold off.

According to financial analysts Sanford Bernstein, 85 per cent of the sales for Sara Lee’s personal care business are derived from Europe, which accounts for an estimated 101 country and category combinations.

Of these combinations Bernstein estimates that there is overlapping business interests between Unilever and Sara Lee in 68 country/category combinations, of which nine are thought to be ‘high risk areas’, representing 14 per cent of Sara Lee’s personal care sales.

Deodorant category is high risk

The high risk categories are found in the deodorant markets in Spain and the Netherlands, whereas ‘risk’ areas are also found in the UK body wash market and the France deodorant market.

If the analysis is correct, this will mean that offloading of specific deodorant brands in any of these key markets may be a likely option in the coming months.

Unilever announced back in September last year that it would pay €1.275bn for the global body care division of US-based consumer goods player.

Sanex, Radox, Duschadas

The Sara Lee unit holds a number of leading body care brands, including Sanex, Radox and Duschadas, which were estimated have had combined global sales of approximately €750m in 2009.

Phase II of the Commission’s investigation into the sale was announced in May of this year, and Unilever had said that it expected the deal to be completed by the fourth quarter of 2010, if everything went to plan.

However, the Commission announced in June that it was extending its investigation on competition worries, stating that its deadline would be extended to October 5th.

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