Ouch. Unilever may have beaten off Kraft Heinz’s $143bn bid but the bruises still show.
Paul Polman, chief executive, told shareholders at the annual meeting in London on Thursday that: “Ostensibly the bid was from Kraft Heinz, a company less than half our size. In practice, the prime mover was a Brazilian private equity firm, 3G, with a reputation for deep cost-cutting and single-minded focus on shareholder value.”
Marijn Dekkers, the former head of Bayer who is chairing his first set of the Anglo-Dutch group’s annual meetings, said he was glad Kraft Heinz, had walked away quickly.
The Kraft Heinz model was “unsustainable” in the long-term,” he told shareholders, as it was based on “deep cost reductions; a highly leveraged balance sheet; and a relatively low investment level in brands and R&D.”
Apart from the odd awkward question, such as why Mr Polman was embarking on a €5bn share buyback, having previously been critical of such schemes – shareholders were supportive, with one praising the group’s “marriage of profitability and values”.
Mr Polman ducked a question about whether Unilever, which is examining whether to ditch its dual-headed structure, would favour the Netherlands over London as its base.
But he said he had met Sir Jeremy Heywood, the UK’s top civil servant, over Brexit policy – Mr Polman was a vocal supporter of the UK remaining in the EU – and would be back at Number 10, the prime minister’s residence, next week too over the issue.