The current Unilever logo used since 2004
|Founded||2 September 1929|
|Products||juice, pet food, coffee, beauty & personal care, food & refreshments, cleaning products, energy drinks, baby food, candy, tea, pregnancy tests, chewing gum, frozen pizza, bottled water, breakfast cereals, soft drinks, medicine & pharmaceutical healthcare.|
|Brands||See list of brands|
|Revenue||€51.980 billion (2019)|
|€8.708 billion (2019)|
|€6.026 billion (2019)|
|Total assets||€64.806 billion (2019)|
|Total equity||€13.886 billion (2019)|
Number of employees
Unilever is a British-Dutch multinational consumer goods company, headquartered in London, United Kingdom and Rotterdam, The Netherlands. Unilever products include food, sweets, energy drinks, baby food, soft drinks, ice cream, tea, cleaning agents, coffee, pet food, bottled water, chewing gum, frozen pizza, pregnancy tests, juice, beauty products, personal care, breakfast cereals, medicine and pharmaceutical healthcare products. Unilever is the largest producer of soap in the world. It is one of the oldest multinational companies and its products are available in around 190 countries.
Unilever owns over 400 brands, with a turnover in 2017 of 53.7 billion euros, and thirteen brands with sales of over one billion euros: Axe/Lynx, Dove, Omo, Heartbrand ice creams, Hellmann's, Knorr, Lipton, Lux, Magnum, Rexona/Degree, 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. However, on 11 June 2020 Unilever announced it has reviewed its corporate structure and that the company was to merge Unilever N.V into Unilever PLC forming one holding company to be based in the UK. This unification is expected to complete in November 2020.
Unilever is organised into four main divisions – Foods, Refreshment (beverages and ice cream), Home Care, and Beauty & Personal Care. It has research and development facilities in China, India, the Netherlands, United Kingdom and United States.
Unilever was founded on 2 September 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 (2000), Ben & Jerry's (2000), Alberto-Culver (2010), Dollar Shave Club (2016) and Pukka Herbs (2017). Unilever divested its specialty chemicals businesses to ICI in 1997. In the 2010s, under the leadership of Paul Polman, the company gradually shifted its focus towards health and beauty brands and away from food brands showing slow growth.
Unilever plc has a primary listing on the London Stock Exchange and is a constituent of the FTSE 100 Index. Unilever N.V. has a primary listing on Euronext Amsterdam and is a constituent of the AEX index. The company is also a component of the Euro Stoxx 50 stock market index. Unilever N.V. also has a primary listing in NYSE.
In September 1929, Unilever was formed by a merger of the operations of Dutch Margarine Unie and British soapmaker Lever Brothers, with the name of the resulting company a portmanteau of the name of both companies.
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 American 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 (butter, margarine, and similar products) 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.
In 1996, Unilever merged 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.
Unilever closed out the 20th century with the acquisition of boutique mustard retailer Maille. In April 2000, Unilever bought both Ben & Jerry's and Slim Fast for £1.63 billion. Later that year, the company acquired Bestfoods for £13.4 billion. The Bestfoods acquisition increased Unilever's scale in foods in America, and added brands including Knorr, Marmite, Bovril, and Hellmann's to its portfolio. In exchange for European regulatory approval of the deal, Unilever divested itself of Oxo, Lesieur, McDonnells, Bla Band Royco and Batchelors.
In 2001, Unilever split into two divisions: one for foods and one for home and personal care. In the UK, it merged its Lever Brothers and Elida Faberge businesses as Lever Faberge in January 2001.
In September 2002, the company sold its specialty oils and fats division, known as 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 name was maintained.
Also in 2002, Unilever sold the brands Mazola, Argo & Kingsfords, Karo, Golden Griddle, and Henri's, along with several of its Canadian brands, to ACH Food Companies, an American subsidiary of Associated British Foods.
In September 2009, Unilever agreed to acquire the personal care business of Sara Lee Corporation, including brands such as Radox, Badedas and Duschdas. The Sara Lee acquisition was completed on 6 December 2010.
In August 2010, Unilever signed an asset purchase agreement with the Norwegian dairy group TINE, to acquire the activities of Diplom-Is in Denmark.
In September 2010, Unilever and EVGA announced that they had signed an agreement under which Unilever would acquire EVGA's ice cream brands, which included Scandal, Variete and Karabola, and its distribution network in Greece, for an undisclosed amount.
In February 2011, Unilever announced its plan to 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. 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.
In 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 and its 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 August 2013, Unilever announced it would sell 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.
In March 2014, Unilever agreed to acquire a majority stake in the China-based water purification company Qinyuan for an undisclosed price.
On 2 December 2014, Unilever announced that it had acquired Talenti Gelato & Sorbetto.
On 22 December 2014, Unilever announced it had purchased Camay brand globally and the Zest brand outside of North America and the Caribbean from Procter & Gamble. The sale also included P&G's manufacturing facility in Mexico. The plant employed approximately 170 people who transferred to Unilever at the completion of the deal. Following the acquisition, Unilever enlisted the services of the packaging design agency Who? Brand Design, to update the Camay brand image.
Hampton Creek lawsuit
In November 2014, Unilever filed a lawsuit against rival Hampton Creek. In the suit, Unilever claimed that Hampton Creek was "seizing market share" and the losses were 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 "Giant corporation generates huge quantities of free advertising and brand equity for tiny rival by suing it."
In December 2014, Unilever dropped the claim.
In March 2015, Unilever confirmed it had reached an agreement to acquire REN Skincare, a British niche skincare brand. This was followed in May 2015 by the acquisition of Kate Somerville Skincare LLC.
In July 2015, the company separated its food spreads business, including its Flora and I Can't Believe It's Not Butter! brands, into a standalone entity named Unilever Baking, Cooking and Spreading. The separation was first announced in December 2014 and was made in response to declining worldwide sales in that product category.
In July 2016, Unilever bought the US start-up Dollar Shave Club for a reported $1b (£764m) in order to compete in the male grooming market. On 16 August 2016, Unilever acquired Blueair, a supplier of mobile indoor air purification technologies. In September 2016, Unilever acquired Seventh Generation Inc. for $700 million. On 16 December 2016, Unilever acquired Living Proof Inc, a hair care products business.
On 17 February 2017, significantly smaller Kraft Heinz made a $143 billion bid for Unilever. The deal was declined by Unilever. On 20 April 2017, Unilever acquired Sir Kensington's, a New York-based condiment maker. On 15 May 2017, the company acquired the personal care and home care brands of Quala, a Latin American consumer goods company. In June, the company acquired Hourglass, a colour cosmetics brand. In July, the company then announced that it had acquired the organic herbal tea business, Pukka Herbs.
In September 2017, Unilever acquired Weis, an Australian ice cream business. Later that month Unilever acquired Remgro's interest in Unilever South Africa in exchange for the Unilever South Africa spreads business plus cash consideration. Even later that month, Unilever agreed to acquire Carver Korea, with 2.7billion USD, a skincare business brand of AHC in North Asia.
In October 2017, Unilever acquired Brazilian natural and organic food business Mãe Terra. In November, Unilever announced an agreement to acquire the Tazo speciality tea brand from Starbucks. Later in November 2017, the company acquired Sundial Brands, a skincare company. In December 2017, Unilever acquired Schmidt's Naturals, a US natural deodorant and soap company.
In March 2018, the company announced that its headquarters will be moved completely to Rotterdam, ending its dual Anglo-Dutch structure. A shareholder vote was planned to decide for the listing of a new Unilever Dutch entity, which would have seen Unilever dropping out of the FTSE 100 Index. When it appeared that the vote would fail the scheme was cancelled on 5 October 2018.
In October 2018, it acquired a 75% stake in the Italian personal-care business Equilibra and acquired the high-end, eco-friendly laundry and household cleaning products company The Laundress for an undisclosed sum.
Unilever acquired the snack company Graze in February 2019. In March 2020, Unilever announced that in order to help tackle the global COVID-19 pandemic, it would contribute over €100m through donations of soap, hand sanitiser, bleach and food.
In December 2017, Unilever sold its margarine and spreads division to investment firm KKR for €6.8bn. The sale was completed in July 2018, and the new company was named Upfield. Upfield's notable brands include Flora, Stork, I Can't Believe It's Not Butter, Rama, Country Crock, Becel, and Blue Band.
Unilever's largest international competitors are Nestlé and Procter & Gamble. Unilever and Procter & Gamble were both fined by Autorité de la concurrence in France in 2016 for price-fixing on personal hygiene products.
Overseas operations include:
- Unilever Bangladesh: the business, which was established in 1964 and was known as Lever Brothers Bangladesh Ltd until it changed its name in December 2004, is owned 60.4% by Unilever and 39.6% by the Government of Bangladesh.
- Unilever Ghana: the business was established in July 1992 following a merger of UAC Ghana Limited and Lever Brothers Ghana Limited.
- Unilever Indonesia: the business was established in December 1933 as Lever Zeepfabrieken N.V. and has operations in Cikarang, West Java at Rungkut, East Java and North Sumatra.
Unilever R&D Centre in Port Sunlight, United Kingdom
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.
On 15 March 2018, Unilever announced its intention to simplify this structure by centralising the duality of legal entities and keeping just one headquarters in Rotterdam, abandoning the London head office. Business groups and staff would have been unaffected, as would the dual listing. On 5 October 2018 the group announced it would cancel the restructuring due to concern that the UK shareholders would lose value if the company fell out of the London FTSE100. On 11 June 2020, Unilever announced it has reviewed its corporate structure again and that the company was to merge Unilever N.V into Unilever PLC forming one holding company to be based in the UK. However, a Dutch 'exit tax' plan may require Unilever to reconsider this unification.
In January 2019, Alan Jope succeeded Paul Polman as the chief executive officer. The chief financial officer, Graeme Pitkethly, is executive director. Jope will be proposed as joint executive director at Unilever's 2019 AGM.
Previously, Paul Polman was CEO for ten years, succeeding Patrick Cescau in 2009.
Branding and advertising
In 1930, the logo of Unilever was in a sans-serif typeface and all-caps. The current Unilever corporate logo was introduced in 2004 and was designed by Wolff Olins, a brand consultancy agency. The 'U' shape is now made up of 25 distinct symbols, 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."
On 26 June 2020, Unilever said it would halt advertising to U.S. customers on social media giants Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter until at least the end of 2020. Unilever cited "our Responsibility Framework and the polarized atmosphere in the U.S." and said that "continuing to advertise on these platforms at this time would not add value to people and society."
Dove describes itself as being 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 employs the use of advertising for its products to display its 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.
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 ages of 16 and 24. Its marketing is a "tongue-in-cheek take on the 'mating game'", suggesting that women are instantly drawn to men who use the products. 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. Using images the company knows it will receive complaints garners the brand more free publicity and notoriety, often through controversy. A wide variety of these adverts have been banned in countries around the world. In 2012, Lynx's 'Clean Balls' advert was banned. In 2011, in the UK Lynx's shower gel campaign was banned.
Both advertising campaigns make stark comparisons between how women and their sexuality are portrayed in advertising and sales efficiency. Lynx commonly portrays women as hypersexual, flawless and stereotypically attractive who are aroused by men, of all ages and stature, because of their use of the Lynx product.
Unilever has declared the goal of decoupling its environmental impact from its growth, by halving the environmental footprint of its products by 2030; helping 1 billion people improve their health and well-being; and sourcing all of its agricultural raw materials sustainably. In September 2019, Unilever announced that its sites across five continents are now powered by 100% renewable grid electricity, ahead of its 2020 target.
In 2014, Unilever was criticised by Greenpeace for causing deforestation. In 2008, Greenpeace UK criticised the company for buying palm oil from suppliers that were 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 14th largest emitter of greenhouse gases, largely due to the destruction of rainforests 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. It claims to have met this goal in 2012 and is encouraging the rest of the industry to become 100% sustainable by 2020.
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.
According to an Amnesty International report published in 2016, Unilever's palm oil supplier Wilmar International profited from child labor and forced labor. Some workers were extorted, threatened or not paid for work. Some workers suffered severe injuries from banned chemicals. In 2016 Singapore-based Wilmar International was the world's biggest palm oil grower.
In 2019, Unilever was cited by BreakFreeFromPlastic as one of the top ten global plastic polluters. Graham Forbes, Global Plastics Project Leader at Greenpeace, said Unilever's plans to tackle this were the most ambitious he'd seen from a massive conglomerate. He also said that Unilever should commit to more.
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 certifies its tea products by the Rainforest Alliance scheme. The company has stated that at least 50% of the tea in its products originates from certified farms, compared to the Alliance's 30% minimum entry point. Unilever decided on the scheme over Fairtrade, because according to the company's analysis, Fairtrade might "lack the scale and the organizational flexibility to certify industrial tea estates".
The Rainforest Alliance certification scheme has been criticised for not offering producers minimum or guaranteed price, therefore leaving them vulnerable to market price variations. The alternative certificate, Fairtrade, has received similar criticism. The Rainforest Alliance certification has furthermore been criticised for allowing the use of the seal on products that contain only a minimum of 30% of certified content, which according to some endangers the integrity of the certification.
In 2001, a mercury thermometer factory operated by the Indian subsidiary of Unilever in the South Indian hilltown of Kodaikanal was shut down by state regulators after the company was caught for dumping toxic mercury wastes in a densely populated part of town. By the company's own admissions, more than 2 tonnes of mercury were discharged into Kodaikanal's environment. A 2011 Government of India study on workers’ health concluded that many workers suffered from illnesses caused by workplace exposure to mercury. The scandal opened up a series of issues in India such as corporate liability, corporate accountability and corporate negligence.
In March 2016, Unilever reached an out of court settlement (for an undisclosed amount) with 591 ex-workers of the unit who had sued the company for knowingly exposing them to the toxic element.
July–September 2016 salmonella affair
Salmonella affair in cereals in Israel
In July 2016, rumours about salmonella contamination in cereals spread among Israeli consumers. Initially, Unilever did not provide public information about the subject and queries on the matter were rebuffed by the company as a non-story and nonsense. On 26 July 2016, Unilever had stopped transferring cornflakes to retailer chains. On 28 July, Yedioth Ahronoth reported tens of thousands of boxes of breakfast cereal had been destroyed. By 28 July, despite the company's assurances that nothing contaminated was released for consumption, many customers stopped buying Unilever products and started to throw away all cornflakes made by Unilever. The company withheld information about the affected production dates.
On 2 August 2016, Globes reported that the company had published more information about Telma cereals handled on the packaging line in which the contamination was discovered and that a Telma announcement had been made: "We again stress that all Telma products in the stores and in your homes are safe to eat. According to our company's strict procedures, every production batch is checked and put on hold. These products are not marketed until test results for this product series are returned, confirming that all is well. If any flaw is discovered, the batch is not marketed to stores, as was the case." In the following days the Health Minister, Yakov Litzman, threatened to pull Unilever's licence in Israel. He accused Unilever of lying to his ministry regarding salmonella-infected breakfast cereals.
On 7 August, Globes reported that contamination may be sourced in pigeon faeces, the Health Ministry said that there might be other sources for the contamination and pigeon faeces are not the only possible source. Globes also said that the production line is automatic ("without human hands") and the possibility that the source is human is a very slim chance. On 8 August 2016, the Israeli Health minister suspended a manufacturing license until Unilever carry out several corrections; the action came after an inspection of the Arad plant, stating "This was a series of negligent mistakes and not an incident with malicious intent by the firm's management and quality control procedures." An investigation led by Prof. Itamr Grutto and Eli Gordon concluded that the event was caused by negligence.
On 23 September, it was reported that the cereals produced between the 18th and 20th at the Arad plant had traces of salmonella.
A filed class action must first be approved by an Israeli court, after approval the case will be held.
- For a sum of 1.2 million NIS (~$329K USD) against Unilever for hiding the contamination and misleading the public
- For a sum of 76 million NIS (~$23m USD) against Unilever after a 15-year-old teen had been hospitalised for Salmonellosis after allegedly contracting it from Unilever products
Salmonella affair in Tahina
Price-fixing cartel in Europe
Pressure on Sri-Lanka Cosmopolitan Editor to promote Skin Whiteners
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