Unilever shake-up wins over investors

Unilever company

The company logo for Unilever is displayed on a screen on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in New York U.S

Part of the strategy to justify its rebuke of the approach by Kraft Heinz, Unilever will spend €5 billion or $5.3 billion on buying back shares and raise its dividend this year by 12%.

"We welcome Unilever's commitment to its sustainable business model, where decisions are taken in the long-term interests of the company and its shareholders", he said.

Unilever said combining its food and refreshment division, would "unlock future growth and faster margin progression".

Shareholders, some of whom where unhappy that Unilever so swiftly spurned the approach by USA rival Kraft, will also get a 5 billion euros ($5.3 billion) share buyback, the first since 2008, funded in part by a targeted rise in debt levels, and a 12 percent dividend increase this year.

A second City analyst added: "There was a limit to how far the strategic review could go in a month and a lot of what we've seen today was already in the price".

Unilever executives said they stood by their strategy to grow sales steadily in the long term and that this approach had found support in talks they held with investors including all of the top 50 shareholders.

After Kraft withdrew its bid for Unilever earlier this year the USA group said its "interest was made public at an extremely early stage".

Consumer-goods companies like Unilever and Kraft Heinz have come under pressure from changing tastes, including a growing preference for fresh foods over packaged staples.

The changes will result in some job cuts to senior and middle management, the CFO said, while the company also expects to wring savings from its procurement and marketing operations. This will be further enabled by the next step, which is the establishment of an integrated Foods & Refreshment unit, a leaner and more focused business that will continue to benefit from our global scale and footprint.

- Unilever is targeting a 20 percent operating margin, before including costs of restructuring, by 2020.

Unilever's review also highlighted an opportunity for accelerated development of the company's portfolio. Unilever plc is rolling out the holistic "5-S" gross margin programme from Home Care into all categories, raising expected supply chain savings from a cumulative 3 billion euros to 4 billion euros over the next three years. Flora to Stork business has been in losses for past many quarters due to decline in sales.

"The recent review has shown us that it can add complexity to structural portfolio change", Pitkethly said.

Unilever was looking at it "with the objective of achieving greater simplification and strategic flexibility".

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