Unilever is a multi-national corporation, formed of Anglo-Dutch parentage that owns many of the world's consumer product brands in foods, beverages, cleaning agents and personal care products. Unilever employs nearly 180,000 people and had a worldwide revenue of almost €40 billion in 2005.
Unilever is a dual-listed company consisting of Unilever NV in Rotterdam, Netherlands and Unilever PLC in London, England. This arrangement is similar to that of Reed Elsevier, and that of Royal Dutch Shell prior to their unified structure. Both Unilever companies have the same directors and effectively operate as a single business. The current non-executive Chairman of Unilever N.V. and PLC is Michael Treschow while Patrick Cescau is Group Chief Executive, who will retire at the end of 2008.
Mr Paul Polman will succeed Patrick Cescau as Group Chief Executive.
The company is widely listed on the world's stock exchanges.
Unilever's major competitors include Procter & Gamble, Nestlé, Kraft Foods, Mars Incorporated, Reckitt Benckiser and Henkel.
Unilever was created in 1930 by the merger of British soapmaker Lever Brothers and Dutch margarine producer Margarine Unie, a logical merger as palm oil was a major raw material for both margarines and soaps and could be imported more efficiently in larger quantities.
In the 1930s the business of Unilever grew and new ventures were launched in Latin America. In 1972, Unilever purchased A&W Restaurants' Canadian division but sold its shares through a management buyout to former A&W Food Services of Canada CEO Jeffrey Mooney in July 1995. By 1980 soap and edible fats contributed just 40% of profits, compared with an original 90%. In 1984 the company bought the brand Brooke Bond (maker of PG Tips tea).
In 1987 Unilever strengthened its position in the world skin care market by acquiring Chesebrough-Ponds, the maker of Ragú, Pond's, Aqua-Net, Cutex Nail Polish, Pepsodent toothpaste, and Vaseline. In 1989 Unilever bought Calvin Klein Cosmetics, Fabergé, and Elizabeth Arden, but the latter was later sold (in 2000) to FFI Fragrances.
In 1996, Unilever purchased Helene Curtis Industries, giving the company "a powerful new presence in the United States shampoo and deodorant market". The purchase brought Unilever the Suave and Finesse hair-care product brands and Degree deodorant brand.
In 2000 the company absorbed the American business Best Foods, strengthening its presence in North America and extending its portfolio of foods brands. In a single day in April 2000, it bought, ironically, both Ben & Jerry's, known for its calorie-rich ice creams, and Slim Fast.
Today the company is fully multinational with operating companies and factories on every continent and research laboratories at Colworth and Port Sunlight in England; Vlaardingen in the Netherlands; Trumbull, Connecticut, and Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey in the United States; Bangalore in India (see also Hindustan Unilever Limited); Pakistan; and Shanghai in China.
The US division continued to carry the Lever Brothers name until the 1990s, when it adopted the parent company's moniker. The American unit is now headquartered in New Jersey, and no longer maintains a presence at Lever House, the iconic skyscraper on Park Avenue in New York City.
Unilever has recently started a five year vitality company initiative in which it began to converge the marketing of disparate arms of their business, including personal care, dieting, and consumables into an umbrella function displaying the breadth of their contributions to personal vitality. This plan has been implemented because of the lack of brand recognition that Unilever wields, even despite its ubiquitous presence. In 2006, it concluded with the sell off of the global frozen foods division, excluding the ice cream business and the Italian frozen vegetables businesses.
The company publicly professes to take a strong stance on sustainability, as stated by its CEO, Patrick Cescau. The company started a sustainable agriculture programme in 1998. In May 2007, it became the first tea company to commit to sourcing all its tea in a sustainable manner, asking the Rainforest Alliance, an international environmental NGO, to start certifying tea estates in East Africa. It declared its aim to have all Lipton Yellow Label and PG Tips tea bags sold in Western Europe certified by 2010, followed by all Lipton tea bags globally by 2015.
Covalence, an ethical reputation ranking agency, placed Unilever at the top of its ranking based on positive versus negative news coverage for 2007.
In 2008 Unilever was honored at the 59th Annual Technology & Engineering Emmy Awards for Outstanding Achievement in Advanced Media Technology for Creation and Distribution of Interactive Commercial Advertising Delivered Through Digital Set Top Boxes for its program Axe: Boost Your ESP.
After some recent purges, Unilever now owns about 400 brands, many of them local that can only be found in certain countries. The brands fall almost entirely into two categories: Food and Beverages, and Home and Personal Care.
Food and beverages
- Ades or Adez — soya-based drinks
- Alsa — desserts and syrups
- Amora — French mayonnaise and dressings
- Annapurna — salt and wheat flour (India)
- Becel — also known as Flora/Promise; health-aware: margarine, spreads, cooking oil, milk, fermented milk
- Ben and Jerry's — ice cream
- Best Foods — mayonnaise, sandwich spreads, peanut butter and salad dressings
- Bertolli — pasta sauces (ambient/chilled & frozen) and margarine
- BiFi - sausage-based snacks (Germany)
- Blue Band — family-aware: margarine, bread, cream alternatives
- Bovril — beef extract
- Breyers — ice cream
- Brooke Bond — tea
- Bru — instant coffee (India)
- Brummel & Brown — margarine
- Bushells — tea (Australia, New Zealand)
- Calvé — sauces, ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, peanut butter
- Capitan Findus — children's frozen food
- Conimex — Asian spices (Netherlands)
- Colman's — mustard
- Continental — side dishes
- Country Crock — margarine
- Du Darfst (Germany)
- Elmlea — Pourable cream available in different varieties (UK)
- Fanacoa — Mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup (Argentina)
- Findus — frozen foods (Italy, UK, Scandinavia)
- Flora — margarine, light butter, jams
- Fruco — ketchup, mayonnaise and condiments
- Gallo — olive oil
- Heartbrand — ice cream (umbrella logo)
- Hellmann's — mayonnaise
- I Can't Believe It's Not Butter — margarine spread
- Imperial Margarine — margarine
- Jif Lemon & Lime Juice
- Kecap Bango — soya sauce in Indonesia
- Kissan — Ketchups Squashes and Jams (India and Pakistan)
- Klondike — Ice cream sandwiches
- Knorr (Knorr-Suiza in Argentina) — sauces, stock cubes, ready-meals, meal kits, ready-soups, frozen food range
- Lady's Choice — mayonnaise, peanut butter and sandwich spreads (Philippines)
- Lan-Choo — tea (Australia/New Zealand)
- Lao Cai Seasoning
- Lipton — tea
- Lipton Ice Tea — ready-to-drink tea (partnership with PepsiCo)
- Lizano Sauce (Salsa Lizano) - Costa Rican condiment
- Lyons' - tea (Ireland)
- Maille — French mustard
- Maizena — corn starch
- Mazola — edible oils
- Marmite — yeast extract spread (except in Australia and New Zealand)
Unilever is the world's biggest ice cream manufacturer, with an annual turnover of €5 billion. Except for Popsicle
, Ocean Spray
ice cream, Slim Fast
ice cream, Breyers
and Ben & Jerry's
, all its ice cream business is done under the "Heartbrand" brand umbrella, so called because of its heart-shaped logo. Unilever currently operates eleven ice cream factories in Europe; the biggest include factories at Heppenheim
in Germany, Caivano
in Italy, St. Dizier
in France and Gloucester
in the United Kingdom.
The Heartbrand was launched in 1999 (and slightly modified in 2002) as an effort to increase international brand awareness and promote cross-border synergies in manufacturing and marketing ("centralisation"). It is present in more than 40 countries. Although the logo is common worldwide, each country retained the local brand so as to keep the familiarity built over the years, one notable exception being Hungary where the previous Eskimo brand has been replaced with Algida in 2003.
In 2005, Glidat Strauss received special permission from Unilever to export their brand of ice cream to the United States because of the strict kosher certification the products in Israel have. Under terms of the agreement, Strauss ice cream and krembo may be sold only in kosher supermarkets and import shops. It is distributed in North America by Dairy Delight, a subsidiary of Norman's Dairy.
Partial list of national brands:
- Algida - Greece, Cyprus, Hungary, Italy, Slovenia, Turkey, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Malta, Macedonia
- Bresler - Chile
- Cargills - Sri Lanka
- Eskimo - Austria
- Frigo - Spain, Serbia
- Frisko - Denmark
- GB Glace - Sweden, Finland
- Glidat Strauss - Israel, USA
- Good Humor - USA, Canada
- HB - Ireland
- Helados La Fuente - Colombia
- Hertog Ola - Netherlands (selected products)
- 和路雪 - China, Hong Kong
- Holanda - Mexico, Central America
- Kibon - Brazil, Argentina
- Kwality Wall's - India
- Langnese - Germany
- Lusso - Switzerland
- Miko - France
- Ola - Belgium, Netherlands, South Africa
- Olá - Portugal
- Pingüino - Ecuador
- Selecta - Philippines
- Streets - Australia, New Zealand (slogan 'Nothing Beats Streets')
- Kibon - Brazil
- Tio Rico - Venezuela
- Wall's - United Kingdom (Great Britain), Singapore, Indonesia, Pakistan, Malaysia,Thailand and other parts of Asia
- Wall's HB - United Kingdom (Northern Ireland)
Prior to the heart logo, each country could choose its own logo, although the most common one consisted of a blue circle with the local brand's name over a background of red and white stripes; second most common old logo, used by Wall's in the UK and other countries, was a yellow logo with Wall's in blue text.
Unilever generally manufactures the same ice-cream with the same names, with rare occasions of regional availability, under different brands. Some of these ice-creams include Carte D'Or, Cornetto, Magnum, Solero and Viennetta.
Home and personal care brands
- Ala - laundry detergent (Argentina-Brazil)
- Axe - deodorant,shower gel,bodyspray (Lynx in the UK, Ireland and Australia)
- Ayush (India)
- Baba (East Europe)
- Brilhante - laundry detergent (Brazil)
- Brut - cologne
- Caress - soap
- Cif - cleaning
- Clear - anti- dandruff shampoo (Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Pakistan, Poland, Hungary)
- Close-Up - Toothpaste
- Cream Silk - conditioner (Philippines, Brazil, Kenya)
- Domestos (Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Spain, Germany, Italy, Israel, France, Turkey)
- Dove - skin, hair, and deodorant
- Fair & Lovely - skin care product (available in India and Malaysia)
- Finesse - shampoo and conditioner (sold in 2006 to Lornamead Brands, Inc.)
- Gessy (Brazil)
- Glorix (Nederland)
- Good Morning (Soap Egypt)
- Impulse - deodorant
- Lever 2000
- Lifebuoy (Singapore, Vietnam, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Indonesia)
- Linic - dandruff shampoo
- Lynx - deodorant, men's
- Lyso Form - home care (Italy)
- Lux - women's soap, shower gel, and lotions (Caress in the US)
- Minerva - laundry and dishwasher detergents (Brazil)
- Mist (Soap Egypt)
- Pears Transparent Soap
- Pepsodent - dental
- Persil (IE/UK/FR/NZ)
- Rexona deodorant
- Robijn softener
- Salon Selectives - shampoo and conditioner (Sold in 2007 to River West Brands, Inc.)
- Sedal (known in Brazil as Seda) shampoo and conditioner
- Signal (dental care)
- SR -Dental
- Skip - laundry detergent
- Snuggle (Fofo in Brazil) - fabric softner
- Sun - dishwasher
- Sunsilk (Sedal in Latin America, Seda in Brazil) - shampoo and conditioner
- Omo - laundry detergent
- Surf - laundry detergent
- Swan (defunct)
- Thermasilk - shampoo and conditioner
- Timotei - shampoo and conditioner
- Vaseline body lotion, shower gel, deodorant (Vasenol in Portugal, Brazil, Italy and Spain)
- Vibrance - shampoo and conditioner
- Vim (Bangladesh, India, Pakistan)
- Vinólia - soap (Brazil)
- Wisk - laundry detergent
- Zhonghua Toothpaste
Unilever has produced many advertising campaigns, including:
- Lynx/Axe click advert with Nick Lachey
- PG Tips Monkey and Al
- Knorr Chicken Tonight, 'I feel like chicken tonight'
- Flora London Marathon
- Knorr global brand
- Dove Campaign for Real Beauty, including Evolution
- Calve Pindakaas (peanut butter) in the Netherlands
- Comfort Pure recommended by mothercare
- Clear Anti-Dandruff shampoo and conditioner with the entertainer Rain
Unilever's highest executive body is called the Unilever Executive which is led by the Group Chief Executive (Patrick Cescau
). It is responsible for delivering profit and growth across the company.
Members of the Unilever Executive include:
Executive and non-executive directors at Unilever are:
Unilever has attracted a variety of criticisms from political, environmental and human rights activists. For example, it has been criticised by Greenpeace
for causing deforestation
, for testing products on animals by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
, and for making use of child labour
, among others.
Unilever was briefly targeted by Greenpeace UK in 2008, who criticised the company for buying palm oil
from suppliers who are destroying Indonesia's rainforests. Unilever, as a founder member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, responded immediately by revealing its plans to source its palm oil from sources that are certified as sustainable. In Ivory Coast
one of Unilever's palm oil suppliers was accused of clearing forest for plantations. Their activities were threatening the extinction of a primate
species, Miss Waldron's Red Colobus
, whose last few specimens live in an area that was targeted for clearance. Unilever intervened and halted these activities subject to the result of a thorough environmental assessment.
Unilever in India
Unilever has been criticised by international commentators such as Corpwatch
for failing to live up to the environmental standards it proclaims especially when operating in developing countries
such as India
In India Unilever operates through its subsidiary Hindustan Unilever
Involvement in race issues
According to The Telegraph
, Hindustan Unilever
, an Indian company that is majority owned by Unilever, was forced to withdraw television advertisements for its women's skin-lightening cream
, Fair and Lovely
. Advertisements depicted depressed, dark-skinned women, who had been ignored by employers and men, suddenly finding new boyfriends and glamorous careers after the cream had lightened their skin.
Dumping of mercury at Kodaikkanal
Unilever was accused by Greenpeace
of double standards and shameful negligence for allowing its Indian subsidiary, Hindustan Lever, to dump several tonnes of highly toxic mercury waste in the densely populated tourist resort of Kodaikanal
and the surrounding protected nature reserve of Pambar Shola, in Tamilnadu, Southern India.
Greenpeace activists and concerned residents cordoned off a contaminated dump site in the centre of Kodaikanal to protect people from the mercury wastes that have been recklessly discarded in open or torn sacks by Hindustan Lever which manufactures mercury thermometers for export, mainly to the United States. According to Hindustan Lever, from there, the thermometers are sold to Germany, UK, Spain, USA, Australia and Canada. The factory, set up in 1977, was a second-hand plant imported from the United States, after the US factory was shutdown for ‘unknown reasons’.
Unilever and sexism
A recent target of criticism is the 2007 Axe/Dove marketing campaign. There has been widespread criticism of Unilever by political advocates concerning the mixed messages being sent by the Axe
marketing campaign, which some consider sexist, and the Dove
marketing campaign, which project a "caring" attitude. Unilever's response is that the Axe campaign is intended as a spoof of 'the mating game' and "not meant to be taken literally".
Unilever and trade unions
Trade unions representing Unilever employees around the globe have registered a number of complaints about the company, including tens of thousands of job losses in recent years. Many former Unilever employees are now outsourced, leading unions to write about "the vanishing Unilever worker". In one example of such a dispute, in September 2008 Unilever Pakistan called in police and paramilitary as a union protested job transfers to a third party. In December 2007 a global trade union day of action against Unilever was called. In early October 2008, the global union federation representing food workers, the IUF, launched a new global website focussing on these issues called UnileverWatch.
Unilever and popular media
The band Chumbawamba
has a song critical of Unilever, simply named after the company.
(Note: Some of these references have incorrect 'retrieved' dates. Those marked 'August 2007' were actually retrieved before 28th May 2007.)