UK – Unilever has quashed speculations by many analysts of it considering the sell of ice cream business, saying it has no intentions, “loves scale” and the division is booming.

Matt Close, president of the new division, said there is “no reason to believe” a sale could be on the horizon.

“I know there are lots of rumors out in the market and we created our rumor when we made the GSK bid as well.”

“But the ice cream business is a big global business and actually if you look at single-category positions, ice cream is our biggest… Unilever loves scale. It loves businesses that can drive value creation and it loves businesses that can underpin our compass and sustainability commitments, “he added.

Ice cream is the biggest single category compared to the likes of deodorant and dressings, Close added, having brought in a turnover of EUR6.9bn (US$7.13bn) in 2021.

The British multinational FMCG giant expects the ice cream category will remain resilient despite inflationary headwinds as consumers look too small luxuries – something with which many indulgent snack brands concur.

Underpinning the statement by the company, Hazel Detsiny, general manager of ice cream across the UK, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand, noted that indulgence is key when life is tough.

He added that people say they’re going to cut down on meat and fish and virtually anything else before they cut down on ice cream, and the company sees that behavior coming through.

Looking forward, Close said Unilever is looking to grow the business through its current stable of brands rather than turning to M&A.

Although having a lot of coverage with brands like Magnum, Ben and Jerry’s, Cornetto, and Twister, Unilever is seeking to tap into trends such as vegan and non-dairy is more efficient with established brands over “niche” new ones.

Close said he will be looking at bringing local brands such as Cornetto, only big in seven countries, into more markets but is not quite in a rush to bring a well-performing brand from one market to another.

He explained that Unilever had been “in quite a rush” to take Turin-based Grom gelato, which it acquired in 2015, into new countries, including “flirting with it in China”, before it had been established in Italy.

In July, the Ben& Jerry’s ice cream owner undertook a business restructure, splitting Unilever’s brands into five main groups: beauty and wellbeing, personal care, home care, nutrition, and ice cream.

The separation of the business into groups, according to Close, has allowed the ice cream division to focus on sustainability and R&D more.

The group is investing in “cow-free dairy” as part of efforts to reduce the carbon footprint of its ice cream.

Close said he sees the use of precision fermentation (creating a dairy-free protein that mimics cow-derived protein) as a “significant trend” for the future.

Unilever is working with start-ups in Europe on the technology and could launch a product next year.

It has also been developing a product that will remain frozen at -12 degrees, versus ice cream’s normal storage temperature of -18.

This, the team says, can reduce the energy consumption of ice cream cabinets by between 20 and 30%.

Regulatory hurdles may have to be jumped, however. Only the US has authorized dairy alternatives made using precision fermentation.

Those companies hoping to supply consumer brands with animal-free dairy include Remilk in Israel, Formo in Germany, and the US’s Perfect Day, which has piloted ‘animal-free’ milk via a Nestle/Starbucks partnership.

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