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Unilever’s Sara Lee Deal Needs ‘Extra Care,’ EU Says

Unilever’s planned acquisition of Sara Lee Corp.’s body-care unit is being scrutinized with “extra care” by the European Union, Joaquin Almunia, its antitrust commissioner, said today.

“This is a complex case” which will have an impact on a large number of consumers, he said today at a conference in Brussels. This “makes the search for suitable remedies particularly challenging because not all the brands, products, and markets present the same problems.”

Rotterdam- and London-based Unilever agreed to buy Sara Lee’s shower gel and European detergents business to expand into the higher-growth personal care category as part of Chief Executive Officer Paul Polman’s push to double sales. The 1.3 billion-euro ($1.8 billion) deal would add brands including Radox and Sanex to Unilever, the world’s second-largest consumer goods company.

“This isn’t a huge strategic deal; if it doesn’t happen, it’s negative for them but it’d be more of an irritation,” Julian Hardwick, a London-based analyst at Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc, said today. “Ultimately what it’ll come down to is whether the remedies which the EU demands, which will be some brand divestments, will be so onerous as to be unattractive to Unilever.”

The European Commission extended its deadline for the review of the acquisition to Nov. 25, the third time the antitrust regulator delayed the review ruling. The EU sent a formal statement of objections regarding the deal to the companies in August.

“It would not be appropriate to comment on the contents of our remedies proposal at this stage,” said Paul Matthews, a spokesman for Unilever.

Unilever’s shares rose 1.8 percent, or 37 cents, to 21.50 euros in Amsterdam as of 11:03 a.m. Dutch time, the biggest gainer in the benchmark Amsterdam Exchange Index.

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