Unilever 'considers SlimFast sale'

Consumer goods giant Unilever is reportedly mulling a £1 billion sale of its SlimFast weight loss range.

Unilever CEO Paul Polman is seeking to simplify the group

The Dove soap and Flora spread maker is in the early stages of a potential plan to offload SlimFast as it looks to focus on core brands, according to Sky News.

But it is thought a sale would crystallise a loss for the group, which bought SlimFast for 2.4 billion US dollars (£1.4 billion) in 2000.

Unilever may yet decide to keep the brand, which offers a diet plan based around its range of meal replacement shakes and bars.

The range of milk and soy-based milkshakes were originally developed by the Thompson Medical Company in 1990.

Despite being part of a weight loss market thought to be worth more than £6.6 billion globally each year, it is understood its SlimFast purchase has not been the financial success hoped for by Unilever.

Its chief executive Paul Polman is already seeking to simplify the group, with recent reports suggesting it is also looking to sell its spicy pork salami brand Peperami as part of this ongoing drive.

In recent years, Unilever has sold Skippy peanut butter, its Culver Specialty Brands and its frozen meals businesses in the US and offloaded the UK and Irish rights to cooking sauces Chicken Tonight and Ragu

But a spokeswoman for the group said it does not comment on "rumour or speculation".

Fourth quarter figures from Unilever yesterday boosted confidence in its prospects after revealing a rebound in emerging markets.

The Anglo-Dutch company posted a better-than-expected 4.1% hike in underlying sales growth for the final three months of the year, which came as a relief after last autumn's profit warning due to currency weakness in countries such as Brazil and India.

It announced a 9% rise in net profit to 5.3 billion euros (£4.4 billion) for last year.

In the UK, the company said it achieved its 25th successive quarter of growth but this was offset by tougher conditions in spreads in Germany and the Netherlands.

Other Unilever brands include Ben & Jerry's ice cream, Knorr, Brylcreem and Sunsilk.