It is just two months since Uniq, the UK-based convenience food producer, announced that it was putting its St Ivel yoghurt business up for sale, but a buyer has already been found in the form of Danone, the French dairy, biscuits and soft drinks group.
Danone will pay £32 million (€50m) for the Shape yoghurt and dessert business, plus a further £0.5 million for existing stock. The French company already markets its Danone and Actimel brand yoghurts in the UK. The Shape business generated sales of £35.9 million in the year to March 2002, but Uniq said it was loss-making because the production facility - which is not included in the deal - was working at a capacity which was not economical.
The production facility, based at Wootton Bassett in Swindon, southern England, will close once the deal is completed, putting nearly 200 jobs at risk unless a buyer can be found. Uniq will continue to produce Shape yoghurts at the plant under licence for Danone until the early part of next year, after which time production will be transferred to Danone's existing facilities in France.
The St Ivel Kids brand of yoghurts, which is profitable, will be retained by Uniq and manufactured elsewhere. A review of the remaining St Ivel yoghurt business and of the costs likely to be incurred by Uniq's withdrawal from the market is currently underway.
The sale of the yoghurt business is just the latest a long line of disposals at Uniq designed to improve the company's financial situation and refocus its business on the convenience food market.
The Uniq group was formed in October 2000 from the vestiges of Unigate, the British group whose origins were in the dairy industry but which by the late 1990s had diversified into frozen and chilled foods, commodities and food distribution.
By July 2000, the core business of the old Unigate group was considered surplus to requirements and the dairy and cheese operations were sold to compatriot Dairy Quest. The newly named Uniq group now consisted of two streams -food and logistics - but the management believed that both businesses would fare better as separate entities, and so the Wincanton Logistics distribution business was demerged in May 2001.
The Malton Foods business, Uniq's commodity business, was sold in October 2001, leaving the group focused on its convenience foods business, which in the UK included the St Ivel business. Uniq's UK business now consists of low-fat spreads and margarines sold under the St Ivel brand, as well as its UNIQsauces condiments business and the prepared foods business which includes sandwiches, salads, seafood products, poultry products, pates and ready meals.
But the transformation of Unigate into Uniq also saw it expand into Europe markets, where it has operations in Germany, Poland, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, France and Spain, focusing mainly on salads, sandwiches, sauces, seafood products and chilled and frozen ready meals.