Unilever Sells Detergent Brands

Wisk, Surf, All and Snuggle Join Vestar Portfolio

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BATAVIA, Ohio (AdAge.com) -- As expected, Unilever today announced plans to sell its North American laundry business to Vestar Capital Partners, owner of private-label detergent powerhouse Huish Detergents, creating a bigger but still decidedly lagging No. 2 to category leader Procter & Gamble Co.

As part of the deal, Unilever gets $1.1 billion in cash, $375 million in preferred shares in Sun Products Corp. (a company created by the merger of the two laundry businesses), and warrants to acquire up to 2.5% of common stock of the company. The Unilever unit had about $1 billion in sales last year, Unilever said.

DeFeo to lead new company
Neil DeFeo, a veteran of P&G's laundry detergent business in the 1990s who was also an executive of Clorox Co., will become CEO of Sun upon closing, expected within the next few months. Over the past seven years, Mr. DeFeo has been CEO of two other private-equity-backed companies ultimately sold to package-goods players: Remington Products, sold to Spectrum Brands; and Playtex Products, sold to Energizer Holdings last year.

William Littlefield, now VP-general manager of the Unilever unit, will become president-branded products, continuing to oversee Unilever brands that include All, Snuggle, Wisk and Surf.

Publicis Groupe-backed Bartle Bogle Hegarty, New York, handles All for Unilever. Interpublic Group of Cos.' Lowe handles Snuggle. WPP Group's MindShare, New York, handles media planning and buying.

Unilever spent $35 million on media for the brands collectively last year, according to TNS Media Intelligence, with $20.6 million going to All and $12.9 million to Snuggle.

Wisk and Surf have had little media support and no agencies of record in recent years.
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