Aarhus sell off likely in April

Related tags Trans fat Hydrogenation Aarhus

The sale of Danish cocoa butter replacer Aarhus United is 'taking
longer than anticipated' with news today that the majority
stakeholder is still waiting to confirm a buyer, Lindsey Partos

The announcement to the Danish stock exchange comes despite hopes shared in October last year by United International Enterprises Limited (UIE), that it would divest its 45.6 per cent chunk of Aarhus United by January 2005.

For UIE, the process of "identifying a suitable buyer" is proving longer than expected, although the company said today it is expecting to make an "outcome announcement" by the end of April.

"The due diligence process has a much greater scope than we anticipated in the early stages of the sales process,"​ says group CEO of Aarhus United, Erik Højsholt.

In 2004 UIE cited a potential difference in long-term investment interests as the motivation for the stake sell-off, claiming a new partner might better serve Aarhus.

In addition to UIE, a pension fund owns over 10 per cent of Aarhus, and a further fund has 5 per cent, while private investors make up the remaining approximate 40 per cent.

Industry rumours had previously hinted that Swedish fats firm Karlshmans could be interested in picking up the UIE slice. But competition continues to bite for the firm, that announced in December it would pour €6.68 million (SEK60m) into cost-cutting measures. A move that followed swiftly on from some 50 job cuts in October.

It is also possible that US ingredients giants ADM or Cargill - currently driving deeper into European markets - might be interested in buying the Aarhus United stake.

In early 2004 results at Aarhus were hit by a cut in demand from the food industry for bulk oils, declining exchange rates that shaved margins and higher raw material prices.

But the firm has seen been more upbeat, claiming that revenue is expected to be 'marginally higher in 2004 than the DKK4.5 billion in 2003' based on unchanged raw material prices and higher sales volumes.

The growing popularity of palm oil is contributing to a lift in sales. Palm oil is becoming increasingly important as an ingredient in a wide range of foods, not least because it is free of artery-clogging trans fats, formed when fats are hydrogenated to make them more solid and extend their shelf life. Because palm oil is semi-solid naturally, it does not require hydrogenation.

The oils also continues to benefit from a growing awareness of the health properties of the antioxidant-rich oil.

Palm oil is now second only to soybean oil in terms of global demand, accounting for 28 per cent of total edible oil sales.

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