Unilever shares slide after Kraft Heinz withdraws $143B bid
Merged company would have rivaled Nestle as the world's biggest packaged food maker.
NEW YORK — Shares in Unilever, the owner of brands like Hellman’s, Lipton, and Knorr, are down sharply after rival Kraft Heinz withdrew a $143 billion takeover offer.
The companies said in a joint press release that Kraft Heinz has “amicably” abandoned the offer.
Shares in Unilever slumped 6.5% on Feb. 20 to 41.91 euros in Amsterdam, one of the places they’re listed. They’d jumped 14% on Feb. 17.
The deal would have combined Kraft Heinz products such as Oscar Mayer, Jell-O and Velveeta with Unilever’s stable of brands, which include food as well as other consumer goods like Dove soap and Vaseline. The merged company would have rivalled Nestle as the world’s biggest packaged food maker by sales.
Analysts say Kraft Heinz, co-headquartered in Chicago and Pittsburgh, is still in the market for acquisitions. The fact that it bid for all of Unilever and not just its food business indicates that Kraft Heinz is potentially open to acquiring other packaged consumer goods, one analyst said.
Unilever, which has a head office in London and multiple stock listings, rejected the offer on Friday, but despite that, Kraft Heinz said at the time that it was still interested in the deal.
Such acquisitions might not lead to big changes that customers would notice on supermarket shelves, but shifting tastes are partly driving deal-making in the food industry.
Part of the challenge is the proliferation of smaller food makers marketing products that seem more wholesome, which makes it harder for the established companies to drive up sales simply by selling more of well-known products or by raising prices, as they have in the past.
“That obviously has its limits,” said David Garfield, head of the consumer products unit at consulting firm AlixPartners, said last week.
Instead, major packaged food companies are being forced to dig deeper to find cost efficiencies or tap into new markets, Garfield said. That can include mergers that result in consolidated manufacturing systems, or that give companies access to distribution networks in regions of the world where they don’t have a big presence.