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(Bloomberg) -- Nestle SA aims to sell its U.S. confectionery unit by the end of March as Chief Executive Officer Mark Schneider seeks to clinch his first major divestment at the world’s largest food company.

The sales process is “robust” and the Swiss KitKat maker expects to reach a sale in the first quarter of 2018, a spokeswoman said in an emailed response to questions. Nestle has made a definite decision to proceed with the divestment after completing its strategic review, she said. Analysts have estimated the unit could fetch $1 billion to $3 billion.

The sale would be the first major step away from the industry by the company that invented milk chocolate. The U.S. chocolate market is sputtering, and in August, Lindt & Spruengli AG blamed North America when it forecast the weakest revenue growth in at least eight years. Earlier this week, Hershey Co., which has been named as one of the potential bidders, agreed to pay $921 million for Amplify Snack Brands Inc., to expand into popcorn and potato chips.

In June, Nestle announced it was considering options for the unit, which makes Butterfinger and Baby Ruth candy bars, and pledged to complete the review by the end of the year. In July, Nestle said the business attracted significant interest from bidders.

--With assistance from Manuel Baigorri

To contact the reporter on this story: Corinne Gretler in Zurich at cgretler1@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Eric Pfanner at epfanner1@bloomberg.net, Thomas Mulier

©2017 Bloomberg L.P.

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