Ragu and Bertoli sauce

Unilever is selling its North American Ragu and Bertoli sauce business to Mizkan of Japan. (CBC)

Unilever PLC is selling its Ragú and Bertoli sauce brands to Mizkan Group of Japan for $2.15 billion US.

The deal, to be completed in June, is part of Unilever’s move away from the food business so it can concentrate on higher-margin personal care products.

It had already sold its British sauce-making operations and this sale marks the end of its North American tomato sauce business.

Mizkan will take over a sauce-processing plant in Owensboro, Ky., and a tomato-processing facility in Stockton, Calif.

Ragú, founded in Rochester in 1937 by an Italian family business, was purchased by Lipton and became part of Unilever in 1987. It is the best-selling sauce in the U.S.

Ragú and Bertolli have annual sales of more than $600 million, Unilever said.

Mizkan is a privately held Japanese food group specializing in sauces and condiments that began business 200 years ago as a maker of rice vinegar. It has ambitions to expand internationally as the Japanese market is expanding so slowly. Mizkan bought Border Foods Inc., a U.S. processor of jalapeño peppers, in 2011 and cooking-wine maker Holland House in 2005

Unilever has noted the declining consumer appetite for processed foods and made several sales of its huge line of food products, including Wish-Bone salad dress and Skippy Peanut butter.  Instead, it will concentrate on personal care products, including Axe, Dove, VO5 and Q-Tips.

Two weeks ago, it announced the closing of its packaged soup operation in Bramalea, Ont. end 280 jobs.

With files from the Associated Press