JWT wins Unilever work; new Lowe Lintas loses pitch

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Unilever consolidated its $96 million budget for culinary products across Europe with J. Walter Thompson Co. after a showdown against Lowe Lintas & Partners Worldwide. The move follows Unilever's creation of a central European food and beverage business unit and is in line with its plan to sharply reduce the number of its brands. Unilever is expected to reveal its chosen "power brands" soon, possibly at the Feb. 22 announcement of its preliminary financial results.

Unilever's ad budget for European culinary products--sauces and condiments such as Oxo stock cubes, Ragu pasta sauces and Chicken Tonight cook-in sauce--will be directed towards fewer brands and centrally controlled.

Both Lowe Lintas and Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide had handled Unilever culinary brands, whose marketing has previously has been directed at the national level. The contest was the first in which the newly formed Lowe Lintas has competed for Unilever business.

John Coombs, category marketing director for Unilever's food and beverages Europe, responsible for culinary, led the snap review that began at the end of last year. No one at Unilever would comment on the reasons behind the choice of JWT, however.

"Streamlining is one aspect [of consolidating with one agency network], but we'll also get good understanding and knowledge," says a Unilever spokesman. "Having one preferred supplier takes away a lot of the frustrations of dealing with different agencies and approaches."

The company has spent 18 months restructuring its food and beverage business to take advantage of synergies across Europe and economies of scale.

Unilever is currently reviewing many of its ad agency arrangements to fit its new brand portfolio.

Copyright January 2000, Crain Communications Inc.

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