The Unilever Plc logo is displayed outside Four Acres, the company’s first leadership development center outside the U.K., in Singapore. (Photographer: Munshi Ahmed/Bloomberg)

Unilever Edges Out Nestle for Glaxo’s India Consumer Unit

(Bloomberg) -- Unilever has edged out Nestle SA in the contest for GlaxoSmithKline Plc’s $4 billion Indian consumer-health unit, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

The Anglo-Dutch maker of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream is in talks to buy the Glaxo business that owns the popular malted-milk brand Horlicks, the people said, declining to be identified as the deliberations are confidential. Nestle has dropped out, they said.

Unilever has offered to pay roughly $3 billion for about 70 percent of the division, the people said. Both sides are working toward reaching an agreement in coming weeks, though talks may yet fall apart, they said.

Representatives for Unilever, Glaxo and Nestle declined to comment.

A purchase would mark Unilever’s biggest strategic move since it abandoned a plan to consolidate its headquarters in Rotterdam in October. The company this year sold its underperforming spreads business after fending off an unwanted takeover bid from Kraft Heinz Co.

A deal would boost Unilever’s presence in a growth market where it has strong historical roots and controls Hindustan Unilever Ltd. The maker of Dove soap and Lipton tea increased its stake in that business five years ago.

Along with Nestle and other consumer giants, Unilever has been seeking growth in emerging markets and from niche brands as growth prospects dwindle for mainstream labels in Europe, the U.S. and other developed economies.

Proceeds from a potential sale could be used to finance Glaxo’s $13 billion buyout of Novartis AG’s stake in their consumer-health joint venture. The Indian division’s brands include Boost, a malt-based drink that’s been endorsed by cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar, as well as Viva, a beverage that contains wheat and barley, and chocolate caramel drink Maltova.

The Financial Times reported earlier that Unilever had secured exclusive negotiating rights for the GSK unit. Coca-Cola Co. had also been cited as a potential bidder.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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