August 3, 2007/The Express-- Unilever is to cut 20,000 jobs and sell GBP 1.3 billion of businesses in a massive four-year cost-cutting program.

The Anglo-Dutch household goods and food giant said it was accelerating its One Unilever shake-up plan designed to boost sales growth and tackle rising food costs.

More than a tenth of the company's worldwide workforce of 180,000 will go through sell-offs or redundancies as 50 of its 300 factories are closed or sold.

It gave no details of where the axe would fall, but said the total included 350 senior sales and marketing job losses in the U.K. announced last week.

The moves are intended to save more than GBP 1 billion a year and will see the group shed many of its 400 brands to focus on bestsellers.

Unilever's food brands include Magnum and Ben & Jerry's ice-creams, Flora margarine and Pot Noodle snacks.

Chief executive Patrick Cescau said the group's network of offices in 100 countries would also be pruned to just 25.

Despite recovering from a shock profits warning in 2004, Unilever has seen its sales growth lag behind rivals such as Procter & Gamble of the U.S. and Nestlé of Switzerland.

The shake-up plans were announced along with half-year results showing group sales up 1%. Profits rose 3%.

Weaker ice-cream sales in rain-soaked Britain were offset by strong demand during the hot weather that swept across Europe.

In Europe, sales grew at 2.6%, outstripped by 4.9% in the U.S. and Latin America and 11% in Asia and Africa.

Panmure Gordon analyst Graham Jones said, "We've taken a fairly sceptical line on Unilever for a long time, but think there is now real evidence of a sustained improvement."

From the August 13, 2007, Prepared Foods e-Flash