Unilever deal aims at added-value future

By Neil Merrett

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Unilever, Value added, Sterol, Phytosterol

Unilever revealed yesterday it will sell a stake in some of
its margarine brands in Brazil, as it moves to extend its focus on
functional foods.

As part of the deal, the company will sell its stakes in the Doriana, Delicata and Claybom margarine brands to Perdigão, which will in turn produce and distribute the Becel and Becel pro.activ spreads under license in the country. Food and beverage manufacturers are increasingly looking to value-added products to tap growing demand amongst consumers for products which can offer health benefits. As such, Unilever's Becel range of spreads is seen as a key brand to tap this demand. Though Unilever will continue to produce Doriana, Delicata and Claybom in the country, Perdigão will own all assets and manufacturing equipment related to the brands. Unilever expects the deal will allow it to exploit its partner's ready made distribution capabilities in the country, where it itself is not so well established. The margarine market in Brazil is valued at about 1.6bn Brazilian reals (€612m) according to Unilever estimates, with the product in 98 per cent of households across the nation. In moving towards value-added margarines, the company hopes to corner the market in the country through product innovation. As well as being a low vitamin high alternative, Becel pro.activ spreads are also enriched with plant sterols (PS), Unilever claims. Plant sterols have become increasingly important to food formulators as scientists continue to link the additive to lowering cholesterol levels. Plant sterol or stanol-enriched foods were originally incorporated into fat-based foods like margarine because of increased solubility of the PS ester. Some low-fat and non-fat foods containing PS however are now commercially available, although some studies have suggested that the cholesterol-lowering activity is reduced in such formats. The move is yet another example of Unilever's desire to step up added value production throughout its entire operations to better meet global demands for functional products. In March this year, the group signed a collaboration agreement with Nutraceutical developer Provexis to design non-juice alternatives of its Fruitflow system. The Fruitflow system, currently used in Provexis' Sirco juice brand, is purported to bring anti-platelet aggregation benefits, important in ensuring healthy blood-flow. Some analysts expect that this latest deal could soon be followed by further divestment in Unilever's detergent brands in the UK and US, including Omo, Persil and Whisk, to drive forward with its health food focus.

Related topics: Unilever, Ingredients

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