Unilever has received a €6.8bn (£6bn) offer for its spreads business from KKR, the consumer goods group has revealed this afternoon.

The global private equity giant has emerged victorious from the closely fought auction against other heavy hitting firms. KKR made it through to the second round of the sale process in October along with Apollo Global and CVC Capital Partners.

Unilever put the spreads division, which includes Flora, Stork and I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter, up for sale in April after Kraft Heinz’s aborted £115bn bid for the global firm behind Persil, Dove and Hellmann’s.

KKR is set to buy the spreads business for €6.8bn on a cash-free, debt-free basis, with the offer subject to regulatory approvals and employee consultation in certain jurisdictions. Completion is expected mid-2018.

Unilever said it intended to return the net cash realised from the sale to shareholders, “unless more value-creating acquisition alternatives arise”.

CEO Paul Polman added: “In April of this year we set out our 2020 programme to accelerate sustainable value creation.

“After a long history in Unilever we decided that the future of the spreads business would lie outside the group. The announcement today marks a further step in reshaping and sharpening our portfolio for long term growth.

“The consideration recognises the market leading brands and the improved momentum we have achieved. I am confident that under KKR’s ownership, the spreads business with its iconic brands will be able to fulfil its full potential as well as societal responsibilities.”

The spreads business attracted interest from some of the biggest names in private equity, including Blackstone, which failed to make it to the second round with it’s joint approach with CVC, Clayton Dubilier & Rice and Bain Capital. CVC came back into the process in an attempt to buy the business by itself.

Nicolas Liabeuf, CEO of spreads, who will continue to lead the business, said: “There is a positive momentum in the performance of the spreads business and we are excited about continuing this journey with KKR. We are confident that our business and the entrepreneurial spirit of our people will thrive further under new ownership.”

Johannes Huth, head of KKR in Europe, Middle East and Africa, said the strength of the portfolio of consumer brands in spreads provided a firm foundation for future growth.

“We look forward to deploying our global network and operational expertise to support the business’s growth ambitions, while continuing to follow Unilever’s responsible sourcing policies, including working towards the goal of sourcing 100% sustainable palm oil by 2019,” Huth added.

The investment is being funded by the European and North American private equity funds under KKR’s control.

Unilever shares are up 1.3% today to 4194.5p, but the business did not announce the sale until after markets closed at 4:30pm.