By Greg Roumeliotis
(Reuters) - Private equity firm KKR <KKR.N> is in exclusive talks to buy Unilever's <ULVR.L> margarine and spreads business after outbidding other buyout firms, people familiar with the matter said on Friday, in a deal expected to top $7 billion.
The deal would be a result of Unilever's review of its operations in search of non-core assets, which it initiated earlier this year after rebuffing a $143 billion takeover approach in February from Kraft Heinz Co <KHC.O>.
KKR prevailed in an auction for the business and could finalize a deal as early as this month, the sources said, asking not to be identified because the discussions are confidential.
KKR and Unilever did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Unilever Chief Financial Officer Graeme Pitkethly said in June that the company was hoping to get a deal done by the end of the year and was open to evaluating offers for all or parts of its shrinking business.
The maker of Dove soap and Knorr food products posted an unexpected slowdown in sales in October, citing lost market share to smaller rivals.
Last month, Unilever said it favored collapsing its dual-headed, Anglo-Dutch structure into a single entity, but delayed a decision whether it would be based in Britain or the Netherlands, avoiding for now a choice with political dimensions amid ongoing Brexit negotiations.
Based in New York, KKR had $153 billion in assets under management as of the end of September. In July, it said it would appoint Joseph Bae and Scott Nuttall as co-presidents and co-chief operating officers, setting them up as its future leaders and successors of the firm's founders Henry Kravis and George Roberts.
(Reporting by Greg Roumeliotis in New York; Editing by Nick Zieminski)