EU Clears Unilever's Sara Lee Takeover

The deal is worth $1.7 billion.

Europe's competition watchdog gave conditional clearance on Nov. 17 to a 1.28-billion-euro takeover by Anglo-Dutch cosmetics group Unilever of Sara Lee Corp's body care division. Following a five-month probe into the deal, worth US$1.7 billion, the European Commission gave its green light after the two companies offered to dump Sara Lee's Sanex deodorant brand to ease competition concerns.

"We had to ensure that the transaction would not lead to increased prices for consumers," European Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said. "As Unilever offered a strong and clear-cut remedy to address the competition concerns in a number of deodorant markets, the Commission was able to clear the merger."

The Commission said Unilever already enjoyed a "particularly strong" position in the deodorant business with leading brands such as Axe, Dove and Rexona present across Europe.

The deal had raised concerns in Belgium, Britain, the Netherlands, Denmark, Ireland, Spain and Portugal because it would "remove an important competitive force and would likely have led to price increases," the Commission said.

The agreement to divest Sara Lee's Sanex brand and related business in Europe "offers a clear and workable remedy, sufficient to restore competition in all markets where the Commission had concerns," it said.

Unilever, which employs around 163,000 people across 100 countries, also sells food products such as Lipton tea and Knorr soups.

Sara Lee, based in Downer Groves, Illinois, employs 33,000 people worldwide and sells consumer goods ranging from State Fair hot dogs on a stick and Kiwi shoe polish.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2010

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