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Unilever to reward shareholders after restructuring plan, denies splitting speculation

Unilever has vowed to reward shareholders with a multi-billion pound program in the wake of a corporate review sparked by a takeover approach from U.S. rival Kraft Heinz, as the group seeks to prove it can generate lucrative returns as an independent company.

Analysts had speculated whether Unilever could potentially fracture into two separate companies in the weeks leading up to Thursday's announcement. However, CEO Paul Polman told CNBC such a move would only harm the consumer goods maker's value creation.

"The splitting of our food business from the rest of our business would frankly lead to an enormous amount of dis-synergies and less opportunity of value creation in our opinion," Polman said.

Unilever announced on Thursday it would exit its shrinking spreads business, increase its margin targets, raise its dividend and review its dual-headed legal structure, as it aims to prove it can deliver near-term growth on its own, following its swift rejection in February of a takeover proposal by Kraft Heinz.

Portfolio 'transformation'

Unilever's CEO described the firm's pledges as a "transformation of our portfolio" with a "feasible" target, as he attempted to soothe any lingering concerns from investors following the unsolicited $143 billion bid from its U.S. rival.

As part of its plan to improve investor rewards and justify the blunt rejection of Kraft Heinz, Unilever confirmed it would offer 5 billion euros ($5.3 billion) in a share buyback and raise its dividend by 12 percent this year.

Unilever, one of Europe's biggest blue-chip stocks, called the episode a "trigger moment" to assess its business, as the global packaged goods industry faces slowing growth and greater competition.