Unilever sells Ragu and Bertolli brands

Japan's Mizkan Group buys bestselling brands for $2.15 billion

Unilever PLC says it has agreed to sell ownership of its Ragu and Bertolli brand sauces in North America to Japan's Mizkan Group for $2.15 billion.

Ragu is the bestselling pasta sauce in the United States. Unilever said in a statement Thursday the two businesses have combined annual sales of $600 million.

The deal includes ownership of two factories: a sauce processing and packaging facility in Owensboro, Kentucky, and a tomato processing plant in Stockton, California.

Mizkan is a privately held maker of condiments and sauces that started as a rice vinegar maker in central Japan more than 200 years ago. It is seeking to expand its international businesses to counterbalance poor prospects in its domestic market due to Japan's aging population.

In a release, Kees Kruythoff, president of Unilever North America, said the sale will help Unilever sharpen its focus, and that Mizkan has the ability to realize the full potential of both brands.

Unilever sold the Ragu brand in Britin in 2011 along with Skippy peanut butter and Wish-Bone salad dressings last year. An article in the Globe and Mail says this is so the company can focus on higher-growth, higher-margin products like Dove Soap and Sunsilk shampoo.

The deal is expected to close in June.

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