Sales: $27.3 billion
Key Personnel: Paul Polman, chief executive officer; James A. Lawrence, chief financial officer; Michael Treschow, chairman, Unilever N.V. and PLC; Douglas Anderson Baillie, president of Western Europe; Manvinder Singh (Vindi) Banga, president foods, home and personal care; Professor Geneviève Berger, chief research and development officer; Harish Manwani, president, Asia, Africa, Central and Eastern Europe; Sandy Ogg,chief human resources officer; Michael B. Polk, president, Americas; Alan Johnson, chief auditor; Howard Green, group controller and senior vice president, finance categories; Pascal Visée, group treasurer; Stephen Williams, general counsel and chief legal officer and Sven Dumoulin, group secretary.
Major Products: Personal care—Axe/Lynx, Dove, Lifebuoy, Pond’s, Rexona, Signal, Close-Up, Sunsilk,Lux, Vaseline, Tigi (acquisition). Household care—Persil/Omo, Cif, Comfort, Domestos, Sunlight, Omo, Radiant, Surf, Snuggle.
New Products: Dove Visibly Smooth hair-minimizing deodorant, Axe hair care range (U.S.), Signal White Now toothpaste.
Comments: Unilever’s corporate sales neared the $60 billion mark, an increase of 0.8%. In Happi’s markets, sales were $27.3 billion. The company’s personal care division, including bar soap and oral care operations, generated sales of $16.7 billion, a 6.6% like-for-like increase, while its household products sector generated sales of $10.6 billion, a gain of 9.8% on a like-for-like basis.
Paul Polman took over the reigns in January.
Having trimmed its laundry business, Unilever has also been tweaking its personal care portfolio. In October 2008, the company’s über brand Dove opened its first North American-based spa in Ontario, Canada. The concept had been introduced in the UK back in 2006. Plans call for 50 more spas in Canada within five years. Unilever also snapped up Ivory Coast-based soap producer Cosmivoire in West Africa and moved into the professional hair care space, acquiring Lewisville, TX-based Tigi, a well-known salon hair products business, for $411.5 million.
The corporate giant continues to roll out new products and expand the reach of its leading personal care brands. The Axe franchise in North America was expanded in late 2008 with new hair care products (shampoo, conditioner, stylers); Pond’s skin care was introduced in Asia; and Rexona deodorants were launched in China.In addition, the Dove range expanded with a new hair minimizing deodorant, Dove Visibly Smooth, which launched in January.
Ridding women of hair is one thing, but Dove also has another issue it wants to fight: poor self-esteem. By the end of 2008, the Dove Self-Esteem Fund campaign had reached more than 3.5 million young women, according to the company.
Axe Dark Temptation
Expanding its reach is critical, but Unilever also recognizes that it needs to tread lightly.For example, Rexona boasts one of the greenest 50ml roll-on deodorants available, which the company attributes to radical rethinking of its design and manufacture. The molding, assembly and packaging processes were streamlined and energy efficiency was improved with the resulting roll-on weighing, on average, 8% less and using 1,000 tons less plastic per year than previous packaging. The time needed to make the cap was cut by 34% and the time to make the bottle was reduced by 8%, leading to significant energy savings. In household products, environmental issues are also taken to heart—Surf Excel Quick Wash laundry detergent saves two buckets of water per wash for consumers in India (where water is scarce and expensive), according to Unilever.
In May, chief executive Paul Polman, speaking at the World Business Summit on Climate Change, called for governments to support a moratorium on deforestation as a crucial measure to tackle climate change.
“The destruction of the world’s tropical rainforests accounts for about 20% of greenhouse gases—more than the entire transport sector. We believe that we are at a point in time where, if government and industry work effectively together to address the problem of deforestation, we can make real progress,” Mr. Polman said.
One of the drivers of deforestation in South East Asia, particularly in Indonesia, is the palm oil industry, of which Unilever is a large customer. Mr. Polman said that the consumer goods industry must exert pressure on the growers, through the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil and through buying decisions and commitments to purchase certified sustainable palm oil made available by suppliers. He also made a commitment to measuring and managing Unilever’s climate change impacts across the whole value chain. This would involve looking beyond the greenhouse gases coming from the factories and lorry fleets and including the impact from both the sourcing of raw materials and from consumer use. The commitment will involve a review of a network of 250 Unilever factories around the world, as well as an evaluation of how agricultural raw materials are sourced and the impact of 2 billion consumers using the products.
“We need to focus on where the impacts are greatest and where we can make a difference,” Mr. Polman concluded. “None of these things are easy, but we must not squander any opportunity to make progress.”