Lowe faces threat to Flora business

Unilever has called a global review of its £25 million Flora margarine advertising account, currently handled by Lowe & Partners.

A shortlist of networks to pitch for the business has yet to emerge, but Lowe is committed to defending the account. Matthew Bull, the chief executive of the London agency, said: "It's a great opportunity for us, but we have to prove ourselves."

The pitch incorporates both the main Flora brand and Pro Activ, its cholesterol-lowering variant, which launched in Europe in 2000. This has since been extended into yogurt and milk as Unilever tries to grow its share of the market in the face of competition from rivals such as Benecol.

It is a painful review for Lowe. The agency took on the business when it merged with Ammirati Puris Lintas in 1999. The brand was launched by Lintas in 1964.

However, it is understood that the agency's relationship with the company has been under pressure for some time. Sources close to the agency said Flora has come close to reviewing twice in the past three years, although on both occasions Lowe managed to defend the account.

The agency has recently completed new advertising for the main Flora brand, but it is unclear whether or not this will air. Its most recent high-profile advertising was for the Pro Activ variant, launched with a campaign starring the Olympic gold-medal winner Sir Steve Redgrave in 2001.

This replaced shortlived work by Lowe, which showed over-enthusiastic employees of Flora thinking of ways to keep fit. The campaign replaced Lintas work starring Richard Wilson.

Although its above-the-line UK presence has been limited since the Redgrave campaign, Unilever has continued to back the Flora brand's health credentials with its high-profile sponsorship of the Flora London Marathon. It took on the sponsorship in 1996 in a ten-year deal.

The review is being overseen by Unilever Bestfoods' Andrea Schmidt, who could not be reached for comment. The bulk of Lowe's Flora business runs in Europe, although the brand has a presence in some Asian markets.

The spread is known in the UK as Flora, while in Germany and The Netherlands and some other European markets it is known as Becel. In France, it goes under the Fruit d'Or moniker.

Unilever owns several yellow fats brands including Bertolli and I Can't Believe It's Not Butter, which are handled by Bartle Bogle Hegarty and Mother respectively. It also owns the Blue Riband brand in Europe.

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