21 September 2000

Oxo, arguably Britain's best loved fmcg brand, may be sacrificed by Unilever to gain consent from the European Commission to its takeover of Bestfoods of the USA.

The food-to-detergents giant faces a demand from EU competition commissioner Mario Monti to submit further brand disposal plans in addition to the extant $4 billion undertaking to sell its Batchelors Foods business and other European brands. The disposals are a pre-condition for EC approval of the Bestfoods acquisition and a final ruling in the matter is expected next Thursday.

Despite Unilever’s earlier undertakings, Monti is worried that the enlarged group would still dominate the European market in certain product sectors – in particular, stock mixes where the company would own Oxo cubes alongside Bestfoods’ Marmite and Bovril brands.

Says an insider concerned in the mooted merger: “The Commission has already market-tested the first proposals we put forward, and it will have to do the same with anything else we submit. But it should be possible to do that quite quickly. We are hopeful that a deal can be struck in time for Thursday.”

News source: The Times (London)