In a Unilever-style restructuring exercise designed to streamline its operations and boost growth, Sara Lee, the Chicago, US-based clothing, food and housewares group, is to shed many of its smaller brands.

The company stresses it is not breaking up the group but is carrying out a 'major review of the global supply chain' to pare down the number of suppliers around the world.

Up to sixty of its smallest and worst performing units will be put up for disposal or closure - businesses which average annual sales of around $45m ($35m, £24m).

Brenda Barnes, Sara Lee's chief operating officer, says the move will "free up costs that will help drive bigger brands".

And according to Lee Chaden, chief executive of the SL clothing division (whose stable includes such brands as Hanes, Playtex and Champion), the company is also looking at options for its European operation which has been hit by the region's tough economic climate - not least the travails of UK clothing retail giant Marks & Spencer to which SL's Courtaulds unit is a major suplier.

Data sourced from Financial Times Online; additional content by WARC staff