Unilever to Buy Horlicks, One of India's Biggest Brands, From GSK -- Update

Fecha : 03/12/2018 @ 05:13
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Unilever to Buy Horlicks, One of India's Biggest Brands, From GSK -- Update

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By Saabira Chaudhuri 

Unilever PLC has agreed to buy malted-milk drink brand Horlicks from GlaxoSmithKline PLC as part of a $3.75 billion deal that gives the Anglo-Dutch giant exposure to India's fast-growing nutritional-drinks market.

The acquisition of GSK Consumer Healthcare India will be Unilever's largest since 2011 when it agreed to buy shampoo maker Alberto Culver for roughly the same price. It marks a diversion from the company's strategy under outgoing Chief Executive Paul Polman to pursue smaller deals.

Announcing the acquisition Monday, Unilever's food and refreshments head Nitin Paranjpe said the deal was a rare opportunity to buy a brand with a leading position in a fast-growing market.

India's huge population and rising middle class have attracted a string of big bets from Western companies, with IKEA, Amazon.com Inc. and Walmart Inc. all expanding in the country in recent years. Unilever -- whose portfolio of brands includes Ben & Jerry's ice cream, Dove soap and Lipton tea -- has operated in India through a subsidiary since the 1930s. The country is one of the company's biggest markets and its local subsidiary -- Hindustan Unilever -- is India's biggest consumer goods company.

While relatively unknown to Americans, Horlicks is huge in India, where it is marketed as a children's drink to help bone and muscle development. It is India's best-selling flavored powdered drink.

Mr. Paranjpe described Horlicks as "an everyday staple in South Asian households across generations" saying the category had grown at a double-digit percentage over the past 15 years. Despite this, he said, Unilever's sprawling distribution in India would allow it to further grow the brand.

Horlicks and the other brands included in the deal -- such as Boost -- generated revenue of about EUR550 million for 2018, with 90% made in India.

The deal attracted interest from a host of big consumer giants with Nestlé SA and Unilever emerging as the final two bidders, according to a person familiar with the matter. Unilever was able to outbid Nestlé by paying with stock from its Indian subsidiary, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Under the deal, Hindustan Unilever is buying GSK's consumer-health business in India in stock. The transaction will dilute Unilever's holding in its India unit to 61.9% from 67.2%. Unilever is also buying 82% of the shares of GSK Bangladesh Ltd. in cash, as well as certain commercial operations and assets outside India.

Unilever has agreed to distribute in India GSK brands it isn't buying, including Eno digestive aids, Sensodyne toothpaste and Crocin painkillers, for five years.

The deal represents Unilever's last move to shuffle its portfolio amid tough competition and changing consumer tastes. Those efforts include the sale of its slow-growth margarine and spreads business, as well as investments in areas such as direct-to-consumer razors and organic tea.

Last week, the company named Alan Jope, a Unilever lifer who currently heads its beauty and personal-care division, as its next chief executive.

Analysts expect the new CEO, who starts Jan. 1, to broadly follow Unilever's recent shift toward higher-margin personal-care products and away from slower-growth food.

For GSK, the sale will help fund its $13 billion deal in March to buy out its partner Novartis AG in their consumer-health joint venture. GSK announced a review of its nutrition business and its stake in the Indian business this year.

--Ben Dummett contributed to this article

Write to Saabira Chaudhuri at saabira.chaudhuri@wsj.com


(END) Dow Jones Newswires

December 03, 2018 05:58 ET (10:58 GMT)

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