Consumer products conglomerate Unilever wants to sell its butter substitutes, which include Country Crock and I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter in the United States, to another company. Why would it want to get rid of two such recognizable brands? Sales aren’t great, because Americans and consumers in other developed countries are losing their taste for buttery spreads.
“We need to accelerate our plans to unlock further value, faster,” CEO Paul Polman told reporters this week, according to Dow Jones. Why does the company suddenly need to unlock its value? The company recently turned down a $143 billion takeover offer from Kraft Heinz, and now has to prove that staying single was a good choice.
For decades, as a country, we actually ate more margarine than butter, the Associated Press explains. Butter took the lead back in 2005, and has taken a greater share of the buttery-spread business since. McDonald’s even switched to using butter instead of margarine in its breakfast items nationwide, a change that took six months to complete as the company used up its stockpiles of margarine.
As research about the health effects of trans fats entered the public consciousness, margarine began to fall out of favor. Brands changed their ingredients to remove the offending substances, including Unilever’s Country Crock, and readers complained that the products simply didn’t taste right. (In actual tests, Consumerist editors and a sensory panel at our sibling publication, Consumer Reports, agreed.)
The question is: Are there potential buyers out there for once-popular margarine brands? Fellow mega-food conglomerate ConAgra already has products like Parkay and Blue Bonnet. Kraft Heinz doesn’t appear to have anything similar in its massive U.S. brand portfolio, but would it want to take on a line of products that consumers are growing less interested in?