The Unilever logo since 2004
|Dual-listed (Naamloze vennootschap/
Public limited company)
|Traded as||Euronext: UNA, LSE: ULVR, NYSE: UN and NYSE: UL|
|Headquarters||Unilever N.V. Rotterdam, Netherlands
Unilever House, London, United Kingdom
|Products||Foods, beverages, cleaning agents and personal care products|
|Revenue||€48.436 billion (2014)|
|€7.980 billion (2014)|
|€5.515 billion (2014)|
Number of employees
Unilever (Euronext: UNA, LSE: ULVR) is a British–Dutch multinational consumer goods company co-headquartered in Rotterdam, Netherlands, and London, United Kingdom. Its products include food, beverages, cleaning agents and personal care products. It is the world's third-largest consumer goods company measured by 2012 revenue, after Procter & Gamble and Nestlé. Unilever is the world's largest producer of food spreads, such as margarine. One of the oldest multinational companies, its products are available in around 190 countries.
Unilever owns over 400 brands, but focuses on 14 brands with sales of over 1 billion euros - Axe/Lynx, Dove, Omo, Becel/Flora, Heartbrand ice creams, Hellmann's, Knorr, Lipton, Lux, Magnum, Rama, Rexona, Sunsilk and Surf. It is a dual-listed company consisting of Unilever N.V., based in Rotterdam, and Unilever plc, based in London. The two companies operate as a single business, with a common board of directors. Unilever is organised into four main divisions - Foods, Refreshment (beverages and ice cream), Home Care, and Personal Care. It has research and development facilities in the United Kingdom (2), the Netherlands, China, India and the United States.
Unilever was founded in 1929 by the merger of the Dutch margarine producer Margarine Unie and the British soapmaker Lever Brothers. During the second half of the 20th century the company increasingly diversified from being a maker of products made of oils and fats, and expanded its operations worldwide. It has made numerous corporate acquisitions, including Lipton (1971), Brooke Bond (1984), Chesebrough-Ponds (1987), Best Foods and Ben & Jerry's (2000), and Alberto-Culver (2010). Unilever divested its speciality chemicals businesses to ICI in 1997. In the 2010s, under leadership of Paul Polman, the company gradually shifted its focus toward health and beauty brands and away from food brands showing slow growth.
Unilever N.V. has a primary listing on Euronext Amsterdam and is a constituent of the AEX index. Unilever plc has a primary listing on the London Stock Exchange and is a constituent of the FTSE 100 Index. Both Unilever N.V. and Unilever plc have secondary listings on the New York Stock Exchange.
- 1 History
- 2 Operations
- 3 Products
- 4 Corporate affairs
- 5 Logo
- 6 Advertising
- 7 Environmental record
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 External links
Unilever was formed in September 1929 by a merger of the operations of British soapmaker Lever Brothers and Dutch margarine producer Margarine Unie. The merger made sound commercial sense, as palm oil was a major raw material for both margarines and soaps, and could be imported more efficiently in larger quantities.
The initial harvesting of palm oil was from British West Africa, from where news reports seen back in England showed the workers abroad in favourable conditions. In 1911, the company received a concession for 750,000 hectares of forest in Belgian Congo, mostly south of Bandundu, where a system of forced labour operated.
In the 1930s business grew and new ventures were launched in Africa and Latin America. The Nazi occupation of Europe during the Second World War meant that Unilever was unable to reinvest its capital into Europe, so it instead acquired new businesses in the UK and the US. In 1943 it acquired T. J. Lipton, a majority stake in Frosted Foods (owner of the Birds Eye brand) and Batchelors Peas, one of the largest vegetables canners in the UK. In 1944, Pepsodent was acquired.
After 1945 Unilever's once successful US businesses (Lever Brothers and T.J. Lipton) began to decline. As a result Unilever began to operate a "hands off" policy towards the subsidiaries, and left American management to its own devices.
Sunsilk was first launched in the UK in 1954. Dove was first launched in the US in 1957. Unilever took full ownership of Frosted Foods in 1957, which it renamed Birds Eye. The US-based Good Humor ice cream business was acquired in 1961.
By the mid-1960s laundry soap and edible fats still contributed around half of Unilever's corporate profits. However a stagnant market for yellow fats and increasing competition in detergents and soaps from Procter & Gamble forced Unilever to diversify. In 1971, Unilever acquired the British-based Lipton Ltd from Allied Suppliers. In 1978, National Starch was acquired for $487 million, marking the largest ever foreign-acquisition of a US company at that point.
By the end of the 1970s, through acquisitions, Unilever had gained 30 percent of the Western European ice cream market. In 1982 Unilever management decided to reposition itself from an unwieldy conglomerate to a more concentrated FMCG company.
In 1984 Unilever acquired Brooke Bond (maker of PG Tips tea) for £390 million in the company's first successful hostile takeover. In 1986 Unilever strengthened its position in the world skin care market by acquiring Chesebrough-Ponds (merged from Chesebrough Manufacturing and Pond's Creams), the maker of Ragú, Pond's, Aqua-Net, Cutex, and Vaseline in another hostile takeover. In 1989, Unilever bought Calvin Klein Cosmetics, Fabergé, and Elizabeth Arden, but the latter was later sold (in 2000) to FFI Fragrances.
The US division carried the Lever Brothers name until the 1990s, when it adopted that of the parent company. The American unit has headquarters in New Jersey, and no longer maintains a presence at Lever House, a skyscraper on Park Avenue in New York City.
In 1996 Unilever merge Elida Gibbs and Lever Brothers in its UK operations. It also purchased Helene Curtis, significantly expanding its 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 April 2000 Unilever bought both Ben & Jerry's and Slim Fast for £1.63 billion. Later that year, the company acquired Best Foods for £13.4 billion. The Bestfoods acquisition increased Unilever's scale in foods in America, and added brands such as Knorr and Hellmann's to its portfolio. The transaction was the second largest cash acquisition in world business history. In exchange for European regulatory approval of the deal, Unilever divested itself of such well-known brands as Oxo, Royco and Batchelors. The same year the company bought worldwide mustard and products firm Maille. Maille had three boutiques in Europe, all of which sell mustard from the pump in the traditional Maille fashion. Paris, Dijon, France and London, UK.
In 2001 Unilever was split into two divisions: one for Foods and one for Home and Personal Care.
In September 2002, the company sold its specialty oils and fats division, Loders Croklaan, for RM814 million (€218.5 million) to IOI Corporation, a Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia-based oil palm company. As part of the deal, the Loders Croklaan brand will be maintained.
Also in 2002 Unilever sold the Mazola, Argo & Kingsfords, Karo, Golden Griddle, and Henri’s brands, along with several Canadian brands, to ACH Food Companies, an American subsidiary of Associated British Foods.
In May 2007 Unilever became the first large-scale company to commit to sourcing all its tea in a sustainable manner, employing the Rainforest Alliance, an international environmental NGO, to certify its tea estates in East Africa, as well as third-party suppliers in Africa and other parts of the world. 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.
In September 2009 Unilever agreed to acquire the personal care business of Sara Lee Corporation, including brands such as Radox, Badedas and Duschdas, strengthening its category leadership in skin cleansing and deodorants. The Sara Lee acquisition was completed on 6 December 2010.
On 9 August 2010 Unilever signed an asset purchase agreement with the Norwegian dairy group TINE, to acquire the activities of Diplom-Is in Denmark.
On 28 September 2010 Unilever and EVGA announced that they had signed an agreement under which Unilever would acquire EVGA’s ice cream brands (amongst others, Scandal, Variete and Karabola) and distribution network in Greece, for an undisclosed amount.
In February 2011 Unilever announced that it will switch to 100% cage-free eggs for all products it produces worldwide.
In March 2011 it was announced that Unilever had entered into a binding agreement to sell the Sanex brand to Colgate-Palmolive for €672 million, and that Unilever would acquire Colgate-Palmolive's laundry detergent brands in Colombia (Fab, Lavomatic and Vel) for US$215 million.
In April 2011 Unilever was fined €104 million by the European Commission for establishing a price-fixing cartel in Europe along with P&G, who was fined €211.2 million, and Henkel (not fined). Though the fine was set higher at first, it was discounted by 10% after Unilever and P&G admitted running the cartel. As the provider of the tip-off leading to investigations, Henkel was not fined.
On 24 August 2011 it was announced that Unilever had agreed to sell the Alberto VO5 brand in the United States and Puerto Rico, and the Rave brand globally, to Brynwood Partners VI L.P.
On 14 October 2011 it was announced that Unilever had agreed to acquire 82% of the Russia-based beauty company Kalina.
In January 2013 Unilever agreed to sell the Skippy peanut butter brand, together with related manufacturing facilities in Little Rock, Arkansas, United States and Weifang, Shandong, China, to Hormel Foods for approximately $700 million (£433 million, or approximately €540 million) in cash.
In July 2013 Unilever increased its stake in its Indian unit, Hindustan Unilever, to 67% for around €2.45 billion.
On 12 August 2013 Unilever announced that it had signed an agreement for the sale of its Wish-Bone and Western dressings brands to Pinnacle Foods Inc. for a total cash consideration of approximately US$580 million, subject to regulatory approval.
On 6 September 2013 Unilever entered into a definitive agreement to acquire the premium Australian tea brand T2.
On 21 February 2014 Unilever signed a definitive agreement for the sale of its meat snacks business, including Peperami (UK/Ireland) and BIFI (continental Europe) to Jack Link’s, for an undisclosed amount.
In March 2014 Unilever agreed to acquire a majority stake in the China-based water purification company Qinyuan, which makes water purifiers, drinking water equipment and water treatment membranes, for an undisclosed price.
By mid-2015 spread-type products, such as the Flora and I Can't Believe It's Not Butter! brands, will have been split, though not spun off, into a standalone entity due to declining worldwide sales in the product category. The unit will be led by Sean Gogarty, currently an Executive Vice President, and will be called "the Unilever Baking, Cooking and Spreading Company".
Hampton Creek lawsuit
In November 2014 Unilever was the subject of a media backlash due to its lawsuit against rival Hampton Creek. In its suit, Unilever revealed that Hampton Creek is "seizing market share" and the losses are causing Unilever "irreparable harm." Unilever used standard of identity regulations in claiming that Hampton Creek's "Just Mayo" products are falsely advertised because they don't contain eggs.
The Washington Post headline on the suit read, "Big Food's Weird War Over The Meaning of Mayonnaise." The Los Angeles Times began its story with "Big Tobacco, Big Oil, now Big Mayo?" A Wall Street Journal writer described that suit with "Giant corporation generates huge quantities of free advertising and brand equity for tiny rival by suing it."
Eat Drink Politics headlined the controversy with "Unilever's Bullying Backfires, Boosts Hampton Creek. Negative media coverage of Big Mayo lawsuit goes viral in case study of PR blunder".
Unilever is multinational with operating companies and factories on every continent except Antarctica and research laboratories in: Colworth and Port Sunlight, England; Vlaardingen, Netherlands; Connecticut and New Jersey, United States; Bangalore, India; and Shanghai, China. It has subsidiaries in almost 100 countries. Notable Unilever subsidiaries include Hindustan Unilever, in which Unilever holds a 67% controlling share.
Unilever is organised into four main divisions: Personal Care (production and sale of skin care and hair care products, deodorants and oral care products); Foods (production and sale of soups, bouillons, sauces, snacks, mayonnaise, salad dressings, margarines and spreads); Refreshment (production and sale of ice cream, tea-based beverages, weight-management products and nutritionally enhanced staples sold in developing markets); and Home Care (production and sale of home care products including powders, liquids and capsules, soap bars and other cleaning products). In the financial year ended 31 December 2013, Unilever had a total turnover of €49.797 billion of which 36% was from Personal Care, 27% from Foods, 19% from Refreshment and 18% from Home Care. Unilever invested a total of €1.04 billion in research and development in 2013.
Unilever's largest international competitors are Nestlé and Procter & Gamble. It also faces competition in local markets or specific product ranges from numerous companies, including Beiersdorf, ConAgra, Danone, Henkel, Mars, Pepsico, Reckitt Benckiser and S. C. Johnson & Son.
Unilever's products include foods, beverages, cleaning agents and personal care products. The company owns more than 400 brands, which are organized into four main categories - Foods, Refreshments, Home Care, and Personal Care.
Unilever's current largest-selling brands include: Axe/Lynx; Ben & Jerry's; Dove; Flora/Becel; Heartbrand; Hellmann's/Best Foods; Knorr; Lipton; Lux/Radox; Omo/Surf; Rexona/Sure; Sunsilk; Toni & Guy; TRESemmé; Magnum and VO5.
Unilever's Standard Industrial Classification codes are 10890: Manufacture of other food products n.e.c., 10410: Manufacture of oils and fats, 10420: Manufacture of margarine and similar edible fats.
Unilever has two holding companies: Unilever N.V., which has its registered and head office in Rotterdam, Netherlands and Unilever plc, which has its registered office at Port Sunlight in Merseyside, United Kingdom and its head office at Unilever House in London, United Kingdom.  Unilever plc and Unilever N.V. and their subsidiary companies operate as nearly as practicable as a single economic entity, whilst remaining separate legal entities with different shareholders and separate stock exchange listings.
There are a series of legal agreements between the parent companies, together with special provisions in their respective Articles of Association, which are known as the Foundation Agreements. A key requirement of the agreements is that the same people be on the Boards of the two parent companies. An Equalisation Agreement regulates the mutual rights of shareholders in Unilever plc and Unilever N.V. with the objective of ensuring that, in principle, it does not make any financial difference to hold shares in Unilever plc rather than Unilever N.V. (and vice versa).
Unilever's highest executive body is the Unilever Leadership Executive, which is led by the Chief Executive (currently Paul Polman).
Members of the current Unilever Leadership Executive include:
Unilever's current non-executive directors are:
The Chairman and Executive Vice-President of Unilever UK and Ireland is Graeme Pitkethly.
The current Unilever corporate logo was introduced in 2004 and was designed by the brand consultancy Wolff Olins. It is composed of 25 icons woven together to create a U shape, with each icon representing one of the company's sub-brands or its corporate values. The brand identity was developed around the idea of "adding vitality to life."
Unilever owns both of the toiletries companies Dove and Lynx. Soon after the release of Dove’s Real Beauty campaign in 2004 it was compared to Lynx’s style of advertising which gained Unilever scrutiny over its hypocritical and opposing ideas to advertising.
Dove: Dove describes itself as a company dedicated to "help ... women develop a positive relationship with the way they look – helping them raise their self-esteem and realize their full potential". (Dove, "Our Vision")  Dove employs the use of advertising for their own products to display their messages of positive self-esteem. In September 2004 Dove created a Real Beauty campaign, focusing predominately on women of all shapes and colour. Later in 2007 this campaign furthered itself to include women of all ages. This campaign consisted mostly of advertisements, shown on television and popularised by the internet. Dove fell under scrutiny from the general public as they felt the Dove advertisements described the opinion that cellulite was still unsightly, and that women's aging process was something to be ashamed of.
Lynx/Axe: Axe, Known as Lynx in the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, Australia and New Zealand, is a toiletries brand marketed towards young men between the age of 16 and 24. It is marketed using double entendre and tongue in cheek humor, which 'suggests the men using it instantly become more attractive, with beautiful women falling at their feet.' (Poulter, 2011). Unlike Dove’s long running beauty campaign Lynx advertising often creates mini series’ of advertisements based around a singular product rather than communicating an overarching idea. This advertising campaign thrives on controversy. Using images which the company knows will receive complaints about garners the brand more free publicity and notoriety. A wide variety of these ads have been banned in countries around the world. In 2012 Lynx's 'Clean Balls'  ad was banned. This ad designed for television, which gained popularity on the internet, shows an attractive young woman cleaning various sport balls. In 2011 in the UK Lynx's shower gel campaign was banned. The poster for Lynx shower gel showed a woman in a bikini under a shower at a beach, with the headline: "The cleaner you are the dirtier you get."  The same year Lynx's Full control advertising campaign was banned. It related nervous sweating to premature ejaculation. In 2014 Lynx was forced to drop its American Super Bowl ad for its 'Dry' Product.
Both advertising campaigns make stark comparisons between how women and their sexuality are portrayed in advertising and sales efficiency. Lynx commonly portrays the women in their visual advertisements as hyper sexual, flawless and stereotypically attractive who are aroused by the men, of all ages and stature, for their use of the Lynx product. Their target audience are men between the ages of 16-24 who are single.
Unilever has declared the goal of decoupling its environmental impact from its growth, by: halving the environmental footprint of its products over the next 10 years; helping 1 billion people improve their health and well-being; and sourcing all of its agricultural raw materials sustainably.
Unilever has been criticised by Greenpeace for causing deforestation, Unilever was targeted in 2008 by Greenpeace UK, which criticised the company for buying palm oil from suppliers that are damaging Indonesia's rainforests. By 2008, Indonesia was losing 2% of its remaining rainforest each year, having the fastest deforestation rate of any country. The United Nations Environmental Programme stated that palm oil plantations are the leading cause of deforestation in Indonesia.
Furthermore, Indonesia was the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases largely due to the destruction of rainforests in for the palm oil industry, which contributed to 4% of global green house gas emissions. According to Greenpeace, palm oil expansion was taking place with little oversight from central or local government as procedures for environmental impact assessment, land-use planning and ensuring a proper process for development of concessions were neglected. Plantations that were off-limits, by law, for palm oil plantations were being established as well as the illegal use of fire to clear forest areas was commonplace.
Unilever, as a founding member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), responded by publicising its plan to obtain all of its palm oil from sources that are certified as sustainable by 2015.
In Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast), one of Unilever's palm oil suppliers was accused of clearing forest for plantations, an activity that threatened a primate species, Miss Waldron's Red Colobus. Unilever intervened to halt the clearances pending the results of an environmental assessment.
For years, Unilever purchased paper for its packaging from Asia Pulp & Paper, the third largest paper producer in the world, which was labeled as a “forest criminal” for destroying “precious habitat” in Indonesia’s rainforest. In 2011, when Unilever cancelled its contract with Asia Pulp & Paper, Greenpeace Executive Director Phil Radford commended the company for efforts made towards forest protection, for "taking rainforest conservation seriously."
Unilever has committed to purchase all its tea from sustainable, ethical sources.
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