Unilever puts its SilmFast brand, US pasta sauce businesses up for strategic review, including possible sale of brands

LONDON , April 24, 2014 () – Unilever has put its troubled SlimFast brand up for sale along with its north American pasta sauces business, including the market-leading brand Ragu.

Unilever, whose brands range from Marmite and Ben & Jerry's ice cream to Dove shampoo, said on Thursday that it is undertaking a strategic review of its US pasta sauces unit and SlimFast.

Finance chief Jean Marc Huet said: "It may lead to a disposal but it doesn't necessarily have to. We're looking at all options."

The Anglo-Dutch consumer products company bought SlimFast in 2000 for £1.4bn, but sales suffered when the Atkins diet craze hit in 2003.

Unilever's weight loss range has failed to capitalise on expanding waistlines and growing interest in dieting and has seen sales fall sharply in the US, its biggest market. It has also faced increasing competition from cereal maker Kellogg, which has turned its Special K range into a diet plan and expanded it to include low-calorie crisps, protein water and flatbread breakfast sandwiches.

Unilever has already offloaded its Bifi and Peperami brands as it focuses on its health and beauty business.

The company reported a 6.3% fall in first-quarter revenues to €11.4bn due to an 8.9% hit from exchange rates. Underlying sales, which exclude the currency impact, acquisitions and disposals, rose 3.6%. Emerging markets were up 6.6% – lower than the 8.4% growth seen in the fourth quarter but still ahead of the overall market, which Huet said climbed about 5%.

Unilever shares were the biggest faller on the FTSE 100 index in early trading, falling 1.3%.

(c) 2014 Guardian Newspapers Limited.

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