Unilever could tidy portfolio with disposals in beauty and personal care

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Unilever is seen at the consumer goods group's headquarters in Rotterdam, Netherlands, August 21, 2018. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw

LONDON (Reuters) - Unilever could sell some small beauty and personal care brands as it looks to pivot its portfolio toward faster-growth areas, its chief financial officer said on Thursday.

The Anglo-Dutch consumer goods group has completed about 36 acquisitions and a dozen disposals since 2015, CFO Graeme Pitkethly told analysts, with many of the disposals on the food side of the business.

Looking forward, however, the balance could shift towards disposals, including in its beauty and personal care business, Pitkethly said after the company reported a stronger than expected return to sales growth in the third quarter.

“We’ve got a number of smaller brands there that we may look to divest, just to tidy up the portfolio and allow us to be more focused,” he said.

The process Unilever is undergoing to unify its dual-headed corporate structure, which should complete next month, has led to speculation that big acquisitions could be on the agenda. The company has said unification would give it more flexibility, including with the use of equity in deals.

“We don’t have any pending major acquisitions,” Chief Executive Alan Jope said on Thursday.

Yet Unilever, which bought GlaxoSmithKline's GSK.L Horlicks nutrition business for $3.8 billion this year, remains interested in acquisitions, with a focus on bigger deals.

“We expect to have a slower pace of acquisitions ... we’d like to do slightly larger acquisitions and maybe fewer small acquisitions, but we definitely expect to pivot toward more disposal activity as a way of reshaping the portfolio,” Pitkethly said.

Unilever sold its spreads business in 2018 and is currently working to move its tea business into a separate entity, including the popular PG Tips brand.

Reporting by Martinne Geller; Editing by David Goodman