Unilever shake-up unveiled: Spreads brands including Flora to be ditched, €5bn share buyback starts and dividend hiked

 
Rebecca Smith
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Stork and Flora are set to be sold (Source: Getty)

After the failed takeover attempt by Kraft Heinz, Unilever committed to shaking up its business with a strategic review.

And now the FTSE 100-listed consumer goods giant has announced the outcome of that review: it's kicking off a share buyback of €5bn (£4.3bn) this year, and will raise its dividend by 12 per cent. The firm said that reflected "increased confidence in the outlook for profit growth and cash generation".

It is also reviewing its notable status as a dual-listed firm in two countries.

Read more: Unilever explores £6bn sale of brands such as Flora after Kraft Heinz saga

See ya spreads

Unilever has confirmed plans to sell its spreads business, which analysts think is worth around £6bn, so the likes of Flora and Stork will be off. The division was moved into a subsidiary business in December 2014.

Chief executive Paul Polman said: "After a long history in Unilever, we have decided that the future of the spreads business now lies outside the group. We will look to increase our strategic flexibility for further portfolio optimisation through a review of the dual-headed legal structure, with a view to simplifying it."

Speaking on BBC's Today programme, Polman said the unit had been declining "for the last 20 years".

The company said it plans to combine foods and refreshment into one organisation to boost future growth and aid faster margin progression.

Polman said the company had developed a responsible investment-led growth model, well-equipped with global scale, that had led to "consistent, competitive, profitable and responsible growth and attractive returns for our shareholders".

However, "the faster pace of change that we are seeing in our markets and competitive set" required Unilever to "set the bar higher".

2017 forecast

Unilever said it was on track to deliver underlying sales growth ahead of its markets, in the 3-5 per cent range. It is also aiming for a 20 per cent margin by 2020 as it ramps up cost-savings.

In a move the firm said showed its confidence in the accelerated plans being delivered, said it planned to raise the dividend by 12 per cent for the coming year. The amount of the next quarterly dividend will be announced in its trading statement on 20 April.

The share buyback programme will be launched over the remainder of this year.

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Keeping shareholders sweet

The company, which also makes the likes of Dove products and Ben & Jerry's ice cream, undertook the review after it rebuffed a takeover bid by US rival Kraft Heinz, which then withdrew its $143bn offer in February, saying an early leak had proved a headache.

Unilever execs then pledged to improve returns. "When somebody lights a fire under your feet, you jump higher," said Berstein analyst Andrew Wood, at the time.

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