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Unilever investors call for consumer goods giant to be broken up

LONDON - Unilever, the UK's biggest advertiser, is facing calls from investors to be broken up following poor financial results.

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A report in The Observer said that investors want the Anglo-Dutch multinational to be broken up after stagnating sales in Europe and poor financial results.

Last year, Unilever topped Marketing's list of 100 advertisers with a total media spend of over £208m in 2005, according to figures provided by Nielsen Media Research, an increase of 7.6% year-on-year for the FMCG giant.

Unilever, which owns brands such as Persil, Flora and Dove, is seen as being too conservative by some investors, according to sources quoted by the paper.

"The forces of conservatism are too powerful in this company," one City shareholder told The Observer.

Another investor said that pressure would be put on Unilever management to change its strategy, boost its valuation and sell off non-performing brands.

Earlier this year, Unilever offloaded its Birds Eye frozen foods brand after unsuccessfully trying to boost its image and sales last year.

At the time, Patrick Cescau, Unilever group chief executive, said: "Deciding to put the majority of our European frozen food business up for sale has been a tough call.

"However, although we have made great progress in increasing profitability in recent years, growth has been harder to come by."

Unilever has also sold off other brands recently, including its classic men's grooming range Brut in the Americas. The sell-offs are part of its "path to growth strategy" to reduce its number of brands from 1,600 to 400.

Plans being suggested by investors include selling more non-performing brands and even demerging the food and personal care divisions because of perceived lack of synergies.

A spokesman for Unilever told the newspaper that food and personal care use similar technological processes and share the same research and development operation.

In its current combined state Unilever, whose origins date back to a 1929 merger between Britain's Lever Brothers and the Netherlands' Margarine Unie, is not seen as a takeover target because few companies want all of it. However, broken up, its constituent parts are seen as far more attractive.

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