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Unilever restructuring after failed buyout

Hammond's Unilever plant, which makes soap. The company announced it is restructuring.

Unilever, which has a soap-making factory in Hammond, is cutting costs worldwide after a failed attempted by Kraft Heinz to buy it in a proposed $143 billion deal.

The company's 87-year-old factory near Lake Michigan employs about 250 workers. Hammond says the former Lever Bros. plant at Indianapolis Boulevard and Calumet Avenue is the the 10th largest private-sector employer in the city, just behind nearby Cargill.

Unilever announced a restructuring plan targeting a 20 percent underlying operating margin by 2020, up from 16 percent today, and raising the dividend by 12 percent to appease shareholders who didn't get a payday from the buyout. 

“With the transformation of Unilever, we have built on a portfolio of strong and growing brands delivered to consumers across the world. We have established a responsible investment-led growth model that is well-equipped with global scale and unrivalled distribution strength in emerging markets," Chief Executive Officer Paul Polman said. "This has resulted in consistent, competitive, profitable and responsible growth and attractive returns for our shareholders. The faster pace of change that we are seeing in our markets and competitive set requires us to continue to set the bar higher."

The British-Dutch multinational conglomerate is known for products like Dove soap and Hellmann’s mayonnaise. The company is looking to sell off its spreads business, which includes margarine brands like Country Crock, and I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter.

Unilever aims to grow by investing in well-known brands like Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream, and focusing on emerging markets, where it makes 57 percent of its sales and has the greatest growth opportunities.

"For 2017, we remain on track to deliver underlying sales growth ahead of our markets, in the 3 to 5 percent range," Polman said. "We feel confident that the changes we are announcing today will accelerate the transformation of Unilever and the delivery of sustainable shareholder value over the long term.”

The company is looking to cut as much as $4.2 billion in expenses, largely through the supply chain and more focused marketing.

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Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.