Unilever said to top Nestlé by RM4b in Horlicks bid


LONDON • Unilever’s departing CEO Paul Polman, in a major push into India that may be his last deal, agreed to pay about US$1 billion (RM4.14 billion) more than his closest rival for GlaxoSmithKline plc’s consumer business in the country, according to people familiar with the matter.

The Anglo-Dutch conglomerate agreed to pay €3.3 billion (RM15.73 billion) in cash and stock from its Indian subsidiary to take control of the consumer business, including malted milk drink Horlicks. Nestlé SA’s offer was lower, but was all cash, the people said, asking not to be identified because the details aren’t public.

One of Polman’s last acts as CEO will be attending a capital markets day in India with the rest of his executive team this week.

Graeme Pitkethly, the Anglo-Dutch company’s CFO, said comparisons were difficult because of the way the offers were structured.

“I hate to speculate, but I very much doubt” that Unilever outbid Nestlé by US$1 billion, he said yesterday at the investor day in Mumbai. Representatives for Glaxo and Nestlé declined to comment.

Monday’s deal may help ensure Polman’s final move as CEO isn’t dealing with fallout from a disastrous decision to move Unilever’s headquarters out of the UK in favour of a single base in the Netherlands — a change he’d hoped would enable more deals. He was forced to abandon the plan in October after shareholders rebelled.

Under Polman, Unilever thwarted a takeover bid from US rival Kraft Heinz Co in 2017 and sold its spreads business to private equity firm KKR & Co Inc for US$8.1 billion later in the year. The India deal is the company’s third-largest purchase since he took over in 2009, data compiled by Bloomberg show.