Unilever (UNA), seeking a buyer for its Skippy peanut butter brand, has attracted interest from suitors including ConAgra Foods Inc. (CAG:US) and B&G Foods Inc. (BGS:US), said three people familiar with the matter.
The unit may fetch as much as $500 million, said two of the people, who asked not to be named because the process is private. The consumer-products company, which had sought preliminary offers by Oct. 25, wants to complete a deal by year-end, two of the people said.
Skippy also attracted interest from Pinnacle Foods Group LLC, the food producer owned by New York-based private-equity firm Blackstone Group LP (BX:US), said one of the people. Pinnacle is no longer looking at the asset, according to another person. Unilever Chief Executive Officer Paul Polman is weighing the sale as he sharpens his focus on health and beauty brands, such as Tresemme hair products and Dove moisturizer.
“The future of Unilever is not peanut butter, it’s not Skippy,” Andrew Wood, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co., said in an interview. “It’s a very local brand and has no real global opportunity. So it makes perfect sense to sell.” Skippy gets about 70 percent of its $370 million in sales from the U.S., according to market researcher Euromonitor International.
Bloomberg News reported last month that Unilever hired Lazard Ltd. (LAZ:US) to sell the label. Skippy is the second-most-popular peanut-butter brand in the U.S., trailing J.M. Smucker Co.’s Jif. ConAgra’s Peter Pan brand is third in the U.S.
Representatives at Unilever didn’t immediately return calls seeking comment. Matt Lindberg, an outside spokesman for B&G, declined to comment, as did Teresa Paulsen, a spokeswoman for Omaha, Nebraska-based ConAgra.
Unilever, based in Rotterdam and London, has done business with both ConAgra and B&G in the past year. In August, Unilever sold its P.F. Chang’s and Bertolli frozen meals businesses to ConAgra for $267 million. Parsippany, New Jersey-based B&G acquired brands including Mrs. Dash and Molly McButter from Unilever at the end of November 2011.
Unilever’s food business, which includes brands such as Hellmann’s mayonnaise and Ragu pasta sauce, accounted for about 30 percent of the company’s 46.5 billion euros ($59 billion) in sales last year. That doesn’t include sales from the refreshment unit, which has products such as ice cream and tea.
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