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Just 17 months after acquiring controlling interest in Huish Detergents Inc., Vestar Capital Partners is planning to use the Utah company to help create one of the world's largest manufacturers of soap and detergents.

Vestar Capital, a private investment company based in New York, said it has reached an agreement to purchase the laundry detergents business of Unilever and intends to merge Huish with that company once the acquisition is completed.

The new company, which will be known as Sun Products Corp., will have annual sales of more than $2 billion, said Brian Ratzan, managing director at Vestar. "It will be the number two company in its category, second only to Procter & Gamble, with its Tide detergent."

Vestar said last week it agreed to pay $1.45 billion for Unilever's brands and its manufacturing and distribution assets in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. Unilever's brands include All, Wisk, Sunlight, Surf and the Snuggle line of fabric softeners.

Huish, which generates annual sales of about $1 billion, is known for being the largest manufacturer of private-label laundry detergents and fabric softeners in North America. It makes products for stores that include Costco, Sam's Club, Kroger and Albertsons. It also sells its own Sun detergent and Sun fabric softener brands.

"We'll be merging two companies that complement each other well," Ratzan said Monday. "With the acquisition of the Unilever assets we're acquiring pieces - retail brand names, research and development and distribution facilities - that we don't yet have with Huish."

He noted with Unilever's detergent manufacturing primarily taking place in Baltimore, it will be able to take advantage of Huish's distribution channels in the Western states. And Huish, which operates a major manufacturing facility in Salt Lake City, will be able to benefit from Unilever's presence in the East.

Huish Detergents founder Dan Huish, who started in business more than 30 years ago with a cement mixer that he used to churn his products, said last year after selling controlling interest in his company to Vestar that the new owner intended to position the company for continued growth.

"I always felt that combining the strength of our company with an established branded business would bring the best of both worlds together," Huish said.

Vestar is anticipating that once the formation of Sun Products is complete, employment at the Huish operations in Utah will increase, although by how much is uncertain. Huish employs more than 1,000 Utahns at two facilities in the Salt Lake City area, its headquarters on South Temple and its manufacturing facility southwest of downtown.

"This isn't a transaction about plant closings, cost savings and layoffs," Ratzan said. "We're putting together two companies that when combined will have an increased presence" in the marketplace.

Brian Sansoni of the Washington D.C.-based Soap and Detergent Association, which represents more than 100 manufacturers, said the deal epitomizes a slowly evolving level of consolidation in the industry.

"We haven't had any big consolidations lately. What we've been seeing, though, is a consolidation of the companies that make the raw materials used in our products. Also, we've been seeing some big companies acquire smaller, niche players, such as those that offer green products, to round out their businesses."