Unilever to sell spreads division

Consumer packaged goods company overhauls operations after rejecting Kraft Heinz takeover bid

Consumer products giant Unilever is overhauling its operations and returning billions of dollars to shareholders, in an effort to maximize value after rebuffing a $143 billion takeover bid by rival Kraft Heinz.

The owner of brands including Hellmann's and Lipton said Thursday it planned to sell its spreads division and combine its foods and refreshments units. Country Crock, Flora and I Can't Believe It's Not Butter are among the brands up for grabs.

The Anglo-Dutch company will carry out a 5 billion euro ($5.3 billion) share buyback and raised its dividend by 12%, a move the company said reflected "increased confidence in the outlook for profit growth and cash generation."

Chief executive officer Paul Polman said in a statement he was confident the changes would "accelerate the transformation of Unilever and the delivery of sustainable shareholder value over the long term."

Unilever in February rejected a takeover approach by Kraft Heinz, whose brands include Oscar Mayer, Jell-O and Velveeta. The merged company would have rivaled Nestle as the world's biggest packaged food maker by sales, but Unilever had said it would be able to unlock more value for shareholders by remaining independent and overhauling its operations.

The company said it expected underlying sales growth of 3-5% this year in challenging market conditions.

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