Unilever promised a program of multibillion pounds of rewards for shareholders after the company was approached by Kraft Heinz for a takeover. The company’s goal is to prove it can generate returns that are lucrative for its shareholders as an independent entity.
Under restructuring that came about by the $143 billion rebuked offer by its rival in the U.S., the Knorr soup and Dove soap maker set up an accelerated plan for cost saving.
The sale of its spreads business Flora to Stork where sales were dropping, and a review of its Anglo-Dutch dual-headed structure were part of that plan.
Part of the strategy to justify its rebuke of the approach by Kraft Heinz, Unilever will spend €5 billion or $5.3 billion on buying back shares and raise its dividend this year by 12%.
Unilever is one of the biggest European blue-chip stocks. It called the episode with Kraft a big “trigger moment” to assess the business as the packaged goods worldwide industry is facing a growth slowdown and more competition.
During the weeks since the announcement by Unilever of its review, some financial analysts speculated it would be splitting into two in a big reversal of its strategy, but its executives said that was not possible and repeated rational that more benefits were in having both its personal products and food businesses.
Executives at Unilever said they supported their strategy to increase sales on a steady basis over the long term and the approach found support in the talks that were held with its investors including all top 50 shareholders.
London-listed Unilever shares, which hit a new record of 4,088 pence recently ahead of the announcement on Thursday, increased 0.4% outperforming the rest of the FTSE 100, which was down a combined 0.6%.
The group announced it would be speeding up its plan for cost saving, targeting an underlying operating margin of 20%, before its restructuring, by 2020, which is up from its 2016 figure of 15.3%.
Executives said much of its improvement in margin would be realized through its food business, which now is planned to be combined with its refreshment business that includes Lipton tea and Ben and Jerry’s ice cream.
In addition, Unilever said it was taking on additional debt, at least as far as financing acquisitions, and would target its net debt at twice core earnings.
Its leverage ratio was below one time for over half of the last 20 years said analysts in London.