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Brussels, 31 May 2010

Mergers: Commission opens in-depth investigation into Unilever's proposed takeover of Sara Lee Household and Body Care Business

The European Commission has opened an in-depth investigation under the EU Merger Regulation into the planned acquisition by Anglo-Dutch consumer goods company Unilever of the body and laundry care businesses of Sara Lee Corp of the United States. The Commission’s initial market investigation indicates potential competition concerns on several product markets, including deodorants, skin cleansing and fabric care products. The decision to open an in-depth inquiry does not prejudge the final result of the investigation.

Commission Vice President and Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said: “This merger creates significant overlaps in a number of products used by consumers on an everyday basis. We need to make sure that if there are competition concerns these are duly addressed so that consumers are not harmed."

On 21 April, the Commission was notified of a proposed agreement under which Sara Lee would sell Sara Lee Household and Body Care International to Unilever NV and Unilever Plc.

The Commission's initial investigation has shown that the transaction would bring together a number of very important brands that currently compete against each other. In the personal care category, Unilever supplies deodorants, bath and shower products, skin care, oral care products and hair care products. In home care Unilever supplies products for fabric and surface cleaning and hygiene. Sara Lee Body Care most notably manufactures and supplies bath and shower products, deodorants, fabric cleaning and conditioning products.

In some countries, the merger would lead to high combined market shares in several Member States and create a clear market leader. In addition, it would remove a strong alternative supplier in a number of deodorants, bath &shower and fabric care markets. In the in-depth investigation the Commission will carefully scrutinise whether the proposed transaction would ultimately lead to higher prices for final consumers.

The Commission now has 90 working days, until 5 October 2010, to take a final decision on whether the concentration would significantly impede effective competition within the European Economic Area (EEA) or a substantial part of it. The parties did not propose any remedies during the first phase review to try and alleviate the Commission concerns.

Separately, the Commission is also examining the proposed acquisition of the Sara Lee air fresheners division by Procter & Gamble on a referral by several EU national competition authorities (see IP/10/395). The deadline for a first-phase decision is 17 June. The two regulatory reviews are independent of each other.

More information on the case will be available at:

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