Unilever has snubbed the opportunity to seal one of the biggest deals in corporate history by rejecting a €134bn mega-merger with Kraft Heinz.
The Anglo-Dutch company issued a strongly-worded rebuttal after Kraft Heinz tabled an offer representing an 18% premium on Unilever’s closing share price of $50 per share (€47) on February 16.
Unilever, which saw its London stock value rocket 12% on the news, said the approach “fundamentally undervalues” the firm and demanded shareholders take no action.
The Pot Noodle maker said it saw “no merit, either financial or strategic, for Unilever’s shareholders”, adding: “Unilever does not see the basis for any further discussions.”
Kraft Heinz remained optimistic that a deal could still be reached, stating: “While Unilever has declined the proposal, we look forward to working to reach agreement on the terms of a transaction.”
The US food giant, whose brands range from Heinz Tomato Ketchup and Philadelphia cheese, now has until March 17 to table an official bid.
If successful, the tie-up would be the biggest acquisition of a British company on record based on offer value.
Steve Clayton, fund manager at Hargreaves Lansdown, said such a move would create enormous cost savings.
“Putting portfolios of brands together can create huge synergies across marketing, manufacturing and distribution, even before you think about cutting the combined HQ back to size.
“Kraft Heinz are attempting a massive push on the fast forward button, for to acquire the sheer scale of brands that Unilever represents through one-off acquisitions could take decades.
“With debt cheap and abundant right now, Kraft have spotted their opportunity.”
Kraft came under fire in 2010 after pledging to keep a Cadbury factory open in Somerdale near Bath, only to change its mind soon after securing a £11.5bn (€13.44bn) hostile takeover of the UK chocolate firm.
In 2012, the Chicago-based business spun off the Dairy Milk-maker into a new company called Mondelez.
Kraft Heinz was born three years later after Kraft Foods became the subject of $45bn (€42bn) takeover by HJ Heinz Co, owned by US business magnate Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway and Brazilian investment firm 3G Capital.
The proposed tie-up with Unilever comes amid a gloomy outlook for UK shoppers as the Brexit-hit pound begins to push up the cost of products on supermarket shelves.
Inflation reached a two-and-a-half-year high in January at 1.8% after more expensive food and fuel bumped up the cost of living.
Unilever chief executive Paul Polman said in January that Britain should “get used to” price rises following sterling’s Brexit-induced collapse.
His comments came just months after the company was locked in a stand-off with Tesco over a 10% price hike, leaving Britain’s largest supermarket grappling with a shortage of store cupboard staples – including Marmite, Pot Noodle and Persil – before the dispute was resolved.
Unilever announced last month that annual pre-tax profit rose to €7.47bn from €7.2bn last year, but revenues dropped 1% to €52.7bn, while underlying sales rose by a lower-than-expected 3.7%.
Kraft Heinz shares were up more than 7% when the US stock market opened.