EU Delays Approval Of Unilever's Sara Lee Buy

AMSTERDAM (AP) -- Unilever NV said Tuesday that European Union competition authorities will take a closer look at the consumer goods company's proposed euro1.28 billion ($1.58 billion) purchase of Sara Lee laundry, soap and deodorants businesses including the Sanex and Duschdas brands.

"It has become clear...that the Commission needed more time to determine the full implications of the deal from a competition perspective on particular European markets," Unilever said.

Unilever, the world's third-largest maker of consumer goods behind Procter & Gamble Co. and Nestle SA, said in September it had struck a deal to buy Sara Lee Corp.'s worldwide body care products business and its European detergents arms.

In addition to Sanex and Duschdas, a German shower gel maker, the deal included several strong regional brands such as Radox bubble bath and Switzal, a maker of baby shampoo.

European regulators had been due to rule on the deal by May 31, but that will be pushed back by four months. Unilever said it now expects the acquisition to close in the fourth quarter of 2010.

Unilever shares fell 2.4 percent to euro21.365 in Amsterdam.

The company hopes the Sara Lee buy will complement its own Dove, Axe and Rexona brands, adding slightly cheaper alternatives to its product lineup.

"The Sara Lee personal care and European laundry brands are maintaining strong levels of growth and Unilever continues to believe the deal will play a significant role in accelerating its growth in Western Europe," the company said.

Unilever has previously said the brands it is buying had sales of euro750 million for the year ending June 2009.

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