Sales: $32.8 billion
Key Personnel: Michael Treschow, chairman; Paul Polman, chief executive officer; Jean-Marc Huët, chief financial officer; Douglas Baillie, chief human resources officer; David Blanchard, chief research and development officer; Alan Jope, president personal care; Kees Kruythoff, president, North America; Nitin Paranjpe, president, home care; Pier Luigi Sigismondi, chief supply chain officer; Ritva Sotamaa, chief legal officer; Keith Weed, chief marketing and communications officer; Jan Zijderveld, president, Europe.
Major Products: Personal Care—Axe/Lynx, Dove, Lifebuoy, Pond’s, Rexona, Signal, Close-Up, Sunsilk, Lux, Vaseline, Tigi. Household Care—Persil/Omo, Cif, Comfort, Domestos, Sunlight, Radiant, Surf, Snuggle.
New Products: Lifebuoy with ANS, Regenerate, Comfort Intense, Axe Black; Acquisitions—Qinyuan, Kate Somerville, Ren, Dermalogica and Murad.
Comments: While others are selling, Unilever’s buying. In recent months, the company acquired Murad, Dermalogica, Kate Somerville and Ren, all in an effort to expand its prestige skin care business. Terms were not disclosed in any of the deals.
Personal care is Unilever’s largest category and includes Dove, Rexona, Axe, Lux and Sunsilk. Last year, personal care sales fell 2.2% to $21.6 billion, but operating margin improved to 18.7%, up from 17.8% in 2013. Leading the way was Lifebuoy, which reported a 15% increase in sales due, in part, to a relaunch in South Asia of the core range with Activ Naturol Shield (ANS), a patented combination of natural ingredients that is said to protect against 10 infection-causing germs. Sales of Lifebuoy also benefitted from a rollout in China. Within oral care, Regenerate dental care system debuted in the UK. The product, nine years in the making, is said to regenerate tooth enamel mineral thanks to a patented ingredient called NR-5.
Perhaps no other multinational on earth is as embedded in emerging markets as Unilever, and there’s a lot to look forward to when you’re No. 1 in many of these countries. Unilever notes that the global population is expected to reach 8 billion by 2025, with half part of the “consuming class.” Farther afield, the global population will increase 30% by 2050 and there will be three billion middle class consumers in the world by that time.
That kind of growth is great news for Unilever in general and its home care business in particular, as nearly 80% of 2014 home care sales came from emerging markets. Home care sales rose 3%, helped along, in part by the success of billion euro brands such as Omo and Surf laundry detergent, Comfort fabric softener and the Domestos home care line. After a limited introduction in 2014, Unilever is rolling out its concentrated liquid brands in eco-packs, which use 70% less plastic than traditional packaging, across Europe this year.
With so much of its success linked to emerging markets, it should come as no surprise that Unilever runs or takes part in several programs that are designed to improve the health of consumers in developing countries—programs such as the United Nations’ Global Handwashing Day and Lifebuoy’s Help a Child Reach 5 handwashing program. It’s these types of programs that made Unilever the No. 1 most sought-after FMCG employer and a Top 3 most sought-after global employer, according to LinkedIn’s Most In-Demand Employers Index 2014.
“We can lay the foundation for ending poverty and build a sustainable future for generations,” Unilever’s CEO Paul Polman told business leaders, government representatives and others at the UN Global Compact Summit’s 15th anniversary event in New York City in June. However, he warned that time is running out to address climate change and its attendant miseries such as pollution, hunger and disease.
Polman called for a change in the system, noting:
- “We must be disruptive—taking risks and challenging the status quo;”
- “We must be bold—looking at new technologies and creative means of financing;” and
- “We must be inclusive—building new multi-sector coalitions that aggregate efforts and harness the energy of the young to the cause.”
In personnel matters, the company announced that chief financial officer Jean-Marc Huët will retire on Oct. 1. His successor is Graeme Pitkethly, who joined Unilever in 2002 and is currently executive vice president of the Unilever UK and Ireland business. Prior to this, he has held a number of senior financial roles within Unilever, including head of M&A, head of treasury, pensions and tax, and chief financial officer of Unilever Indonesia.